Kids, and symphony, have a blast

DOWNEY - Before a packed house in Downey's Civic Theatre, the conductor of the Downey Symphony stood on the podium before her orchestra and addressed the audience. Gesturing to the side stages, Sharon Lavery said, "I am proud to share the stage with these fine musicians."In two rows on each side stood 10 or 11 wind and brass players, their polished instruments gleaming in the spotlights, their determined faces trying to hide delight without success. The occasion was the annual concert for the city's fifth-grade students. Lavery and the orchestra had just presented a program of Beethoven, Mussorgsky, a touch of "Pirates of the Caribbean," and Tchaikovsky, all enthusiastically received. Now it was finale time, and in these concerts that means the overwhelming conclusion to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Russia won the War of 1812 and did not celebrate moderately. When Tchaikovsky wrote his thrilling work commemorating the event, he called for victorious cannon booms (thunderous whacks on the bass drum), the wild peal of church bells (torrents of liquid notes from the chimes), and a huge orchestra. For Sharon Lavery it was time to call in a few friends to help out, just as her predecessor, Tom Osborn, had done it. Hence those side stages and the wind and brass students from Warren High School and Downey High School. What a blast. On Downey's stage, a very small girl played euphonium - that's a baritone tuba, folks - and an even smaller girl conquered the challenges of a trombone. It was all mighty and accurate and sure and jubilant. And proud. We talked with some of the Warren players afterward, all of whom play in marching band. Kandis began oboe in fourth grade. Jasper, a junior on trumpet, played this concert with the Symphony last year. As a third-grader, Christopher started an exploration of sax and clarinet and horn and piano, and now wants to go to the Julliard School of Music in New York. Silvia plays flute, Andrea and Erinjoy play clarinet. The purpose of the orchestra's performance for 1,709 students this day is to get them excited about instrumental music so they will want to try it out next year in middle school. This involves considerable funding, of course, and the Downey Kiwanis Foudnation came through. Cheers. As is the case every year, Ana Thorne in the Downey Unified offices handled flawlessly the logistics of delivering students to the theater and back again. So the bus bringing Old River School's kids broke down en route to the concert, thereby messing up the works, right? Way wrong. Everyone coped, the kids arrived, things flowed along just fine. In a letter to the Symphony board, Denise Takano, director of elementary education at DUSD, wrote, "Our students and teachers were truly delighted to experience such wonderful music at the Downey Theatre. Sharon Lavery conducts the orchestra in a way that keeps the students' attention, and makes the concert not only educational, but also fun. Many of them leave feeling inspired to learn how to play a musical instrument. Hopefully, you will see some of these fifth grade students performing in our high schools' bands in a few years." So with anticipation and confidence, we'll be watching those side stages!

********** Published: May 29, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 6