Musical event gets impressive score

Arts: Children and parents are enthusiastic about the BSO's annual hands-on open house.

April 01, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

The outer lobby of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was packed yesterday a full half-hour before the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual open house was to start, and a line of parents and youngsters trailed down the sidewalk toward Cathedral Street.

Inside, musicians warmed up at different spots in the huge lobby, ready for the crush to come, and the kids from the Mount Royal Symphonic Orchestra waited nervously for their turns on a makeshift stage near the door.

When the ushers started letting people in, it looked like a suburban shopping mall the morning after Thanksgiving. Visitors streamed through the doors, pausing only a moment to find a map and head for the "Meet the Musicians" stations, the backstage tour, or to hear glass harpist Jamey Turner perform on water-filled snifters.

The open house, part of the BSO's outreach program, is such a long-standing tradition that no one associated with the orchestra seems to know how many years it has been presented.

"At least as long as I've been here, and that's eight, 10 years," said Ed Hoffman, one of the orchestra's trumpet players, who had been teaching children as young as 3 and as old as 12 to pucker up and blow.

The open house is designed to "instill a love for music" in children and help build the next generation of symphony audiences, said orchestra spokeswoman Eileen Andrews Jackson.

"Many kids think of classical music as a bunch of people standing up there in tuxedos. With this, they get to see there's more than that. They see what happens when you put the bow to that string, what it takes to make music," she said.

The Mount Royal students, under the direction of Jane Cromwell, have an idea of what it takes. They practice almost every day at school and sometimes after school. And they're loving it.

"It's so much fun playing with my friends," said cellist Aquira Herring, 7, as she posed for pictures holding a small bouquet. "I really like it."

Day-Glo conducting batons

On the second tier of the lobby, back in a corner, Hoffman explained to each of the countless youngsters who lined up in front of him the workings of the trumpet.

"This is the bell, this is where the sound comes out," he said. "This is the mouthpiece."

Patiently, he showed each child how to hold the horn and how to create a sound by buzzing their lips. And he encouraged each one, even when the sounds they produced were more closely related to cows than music.

"Now take a big breath and hold one steady tone," he told one girl. "That's it, now you're getting it."

John Marcus, an 11-year-old from Owings Mills, strained as he blew, finally forcing a note from the horn.

"That was hard," he said, as he walked away puffing. "I thought it was going to be easy."

Below him, BSO assistant conductor Lara Webber was giving lessons in conducting to a group of elementary school-age children who were waving Day-Glo green, orange and yellow pencils in time to the "William Tell Overture."

"One two, one two, one two," she counted, waving her pencil. "Now, loud." She straightened up, making larger motions with her arm, and the children imitated her. "And soft." She held out the palm of her left hand and made smaller motions. "Now, off." The music was over.

Lindsey Baer, 7, a first-grader at Friends School, pronounced the lesson "fun" before she headed off to try something else.

Nicholas Binford stepped up to try the flute, his eyes dancing. When flute teacher Angela Mullins asked whether he could blow hard, he let out a whoosh of air.

After a few toots, the 6-year-old Friends School pupil concluded that the flute was "pretty nice." He liked the French horn better be- cause it made more noise, but the piano is "really great," he said.

`Their faces light up'

Orchestra members and other musicians who help with the program seem to have as much fun as the children.

"I just love this," said Mullins, a professional flute teacher who works in the orchestra's Arts Excel program that takes musicians to local schools. "It's being able to communicate with a kid with something that goes beyond words. Their faces light up when they realize they can do this."

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