‘Audible Petting Zoo’ at Strathmore

‘Audible Petting Zoo’ at Strathmore

County 2nd-graders attend National Philharmonic performances at Strathmore as part of an educational enrichment program.

A sea of bobbing heads, squirming bodies and impromptu composers looked on as the National Philharmonic Orchestra did what it does best — capturing the minds and hearts of its audience through a skilled performance.

The third annual Ruth Rales Comcast Kids Student Concerts were held Nov. 14-16 at The Music Center at Strathmore as part of a program designed to educate Montgomery County second-grade students in classical music. Six shows were conducted over three days as every second-grade student in the county had the opportunity to hear a live performance of the music that they learned about for the preceding month.

MAESTRO Piotr Gajewski led the Philharmonic through a variety of selections, including the works of American icon Leonard Bernstein, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and others. The performance was complete with an audible “petting zoo,” as Bill Curry of Strathmore termed it, as composer Russel Peck guided the children through a musical tour of all of the instrumental sections.

Each section performed individually at first, and then in concert to show the students the capabilities of each instruments. By combining the individual play of instruments with a visual demonstration, Peck showed the students how certain instruments can emulate the sounds of real life. They learned that cellos and cymbals can make the sounds that a steam engine train does, and when Peck showed them how horns and trombones can make the same noises as cows, Strathmore Hall reverberated with giggles.

One of the goals of the concert series was to allow the second-grade students to listen to young musicians who can be role models for the grade-school students. Three winners of the National Philharmonic Concerto Competition held in October were chosen to perform a concerto movement. Violist Daniel Getz, a senior at Walt Whitman High School, was one of those winners and performed Tuesday.

“It was really fun,” said Getz, whose only previous such experience was with an orchestra composed of student and amateur musicians. “This was a little bit more fulfilling. They were professional musicians so they were able to follow me a little bit more and I could take some more creative liberties.” Getz played the first movement from William Walton’s viola concerto. “I like it because it’s very lyrical. [Walton] dedicated it to someone who he must have loved very much and you can hear that in the music.”

“Who knows,” Gajewski told the young audience, “in a few years maybe one of you will be up here as our special soloist — all it takes is a lot of music and a lot of hard work.”

THE SECOND-GRADERS have been preparing for this for the past month according to Kate Harrison, a spokesperson for Montgomery County schools. The students have been learning all of the names and sounds of the musical instruments and have also been learning the words and some accompanying movements for “The Berry Pickers Song,” from Villa-Lobos’ “The Little Train of Caipira.”

“The kids really love ‘The Berry Pickers’ Song,’” said Harrison. “They have been learning a lot about music in general and this is just an eye-opening experience for them.”

That sentiment was evident in Wei Wei Hsu, a second-grade student at Potomac Elementary who said that she enjoyed the show very much and that her favorite musical instrument is the harp.

The program has been operating since 2004 with the joint collaboration of the National Philharmonic, Strathmore and the sponsorship of the RFI Foundation and Comcast of Montgomery County. According to Harrison the program will continue to run next year and beyond.

“The kids are clearly enjoying it,” said Harrison. “It will be interesting to see now, because the first kids to go through the program [three years ago] are now at an age where they can choose to take music and instrumental classes and it will be interesting to see if there is an upswing in the enrollment.”