By Kim Waldock
Since starting at the TSO, we had given numerous Mini TSO concerts, but the schools concert season began in May for an intense 4-week period. Knowing that music education in Australian primary schools is dire in most cases, it is an extraordinary opportunity for us to provide children with a first live orchestral concert experience and reignite a love for classical music in teachers, or just dispel the myth that children today and classical music do not mix. This has been something I have been looking forward to immensely.
Whilst I love the chance to witness a young child’s first experience of an orchestra, I was saddened to realise in late April that only private schools were booking into our school concerts in Hobart and Launceston. After contacting many of the public schools a pattern of reasons began to emerge: we want to come, but sadly cannot afford the bus and concert tickets (which are discounted to $9). Fortunately, the generosity of some patrons who are as passionate about music education as I am, provided the means for a number of schools in that situation to attend. Once this door was opened, they put their hands up in droves!
Rehearsal day. I meet the woman who is presenting the schools concerts and am relieved to note she is perfect – she has the energy and the common sense to read the room and thinks like an educator. This will be fine. The orchestra are surprised by some changes to the regular repertoire. I had included the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the March from the Nutcracker which replaced a number of nursery rhymes. Why? Because the schools are coming to learn about an orchestra and many of the children consider themselves too grown up for such frivolities. Why would you play a nursery rhyme, however nicely arranged, when we have such fantastic and accessible orchestral rep?
We started with 3 concerts in Hobart for about 700 children.
Our concerts were interactive with the children singing, clapping rhythms, conducting, dancing and answering questions, while the orchestra, consisting of one of each instrument – what we call Mini TSO – performed a number of light classics. Our presenter, Bryony Geeves, is indeed a seasoned performer with excellent skills in engaging and keeping the attention of large groups of children. As part of the strategy underpinning these concerts is to model ways of using music in the classroom, she was terrific at leading musical activity with humour and an enormous smile.
Rather than just engaging with students, we invited a number of retirement community homes around Hobart to bring some of their less mobile residents, who struggle to get to the TSO and sit through a regular concert, to come to the morning performance. Some quick adjustments were made by our presenter but, not surprisingly, the audience really enjoyed participating. Be it singing, conducting, clapping rhythms, recognising motifs or just moving to the music, they wanted to be involved in every piece. Some hummed along, some conducted, others beat time with their feet but mostly they all smiled through it.
Time to hit the road and head to Launceston! Unfortunately, a technical hitch delayed our departure, and embarrassed the heck out of the bus driver (see pic!) but we all arrived safe and sound. In the interests of team building, our Principal Double Bass, Stuart Thompson, planned ahead and reserved a large table at the Pickled Evenings Indian Restaurant, which has become a fast favourite!
Our Launceston schools’ concerts had to be held in The Branch Christian Church at Kings Meadow. This was because other usual venues were being refurbished or repaired and it was reputedly the best acoustic in Launceston available.
Despite the grey and grizzly morning, busloads of bedraggled children began to arrive and soon the room was buzzing with anticipation. Of course, our production team, Cain and Abel (aka Kayne and Nick) had arrived early that morning to set up for us and the room was warm and inviting and ready for action.
The last concert for this tour was full of mischief, although the orchestra maintained their professionalism beautifully. Some inadvertent key changes during introductions managed to not steer the musicians too off-course, and Tracey Patten deciding to mix things up with the sound effects in B-I-N-G-O had the kids asking “Let’s sing it again!”. Poor Susanna Low was also totally thrown when the violin demos, instead of being a canon between her and our concert master Lucy Carrig, started with Lucy playing the first phrase of happy birthday instead (as it was Susanna’s birthday)! Of course, the children all started singing and the orchestra accompanied brilliantly.
Gary Wain, who was our conductor for these concerts, then took the opportunity to explain to the audience that he could control how fast and how loud the orchestra played –and suddenly we were all conducting the Radetzky march as if nothing amiss had occurred.
It was a wonderful concert. All the children had been prepared for the music they would hear by their teachers using the material we sent out and they were ALL engaged, answered questions thoughtfully and listening like hawks.
Until the last piece.
In the Hall of the Mountain King, our rousing closer had never sounded like this. The orchestra started playing, it as it is written, thankfully, but the children all started to sing the familiar tune and insisted on singing right to the last note. It was terrific and everyone was beaming as the orchestra took their final bow.
What a joy it is to see young children engaging with music. “What did you think?” I asked as they left “we loved the naughty flute” (Lloyd); “we loved the double bass!” (Stuart); “I want to play the horse instrument” (Yoram’s William Tell moment); “the drums were the best!” (Tracey’s echo clapping activity); “I liked Bluey (Dinah) and Star Wars (Claudia)”; “The bullfrog!” (Dave’s Trombone) - these were just some of the eager responses., But overwhelmingly to the question “What did you like best?” was the reply “All of it!”. “We have to do more of this” said one School Principal as she left.
Overwhelmingly the main feedback was about thank you – for the experience, the quality of the performance, for the financial assistance we offered some of the department for education schools and for just doing it and to those who made it possible.
Thank you so much for the truly wonderful experience we enjoyed yesterday. The space, pacing and presentation, and selection of music, were just right for our young audience! Of course, we want to thank the sponsors, and the players for their generosity and look forward to our engagement with the TSO next year. Ingrid, Music teacher, Huonville Primary