Kids learn that a symphony can be fun

DOWNEY - Attention, parents of all Downey fifth-graders! Do you know where your children were on Wednesday morning, Oct. 26?Well, in school yes, most likely. But did you know they also swashbuckled with pirates in the Caribbean Sea, hid from a wicked Russian witch, and sang with Ludwig van Beethoven? Every bit of it is true - just ask them. But stay cool, your sons and daughters were in good company with Downey's friendly Symphony Orchestra musicians leading the way at a concert presented annually, specifically for these classes, in the Civic Theatre. The fifth-graders came throughout the morning in three waves, each arrival and departure an hour apart, all the logistics masterfully planned by the School District offices. Ten mustard-yellow school buses pulled up for the 9:30 performance, 531 excited kids lined up across the theater courtyard, then filed into the beautiful auditorium for their special orchestra concert. Repeat at 10:30. Repeat at 11:30. By the conclusion of the third performance, more than 1,645 youngsters had watched and heard each instrument in the orchestra, demonstrated one at a time, through the four sections: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion. They listened as magic poured from violinists' fingers, gasped at the size, color, shape of a bassoon, gasped again as the man held high his mighty tuba. From time to time the students themselves became an impromptu rhythm section, feet, hands, arms, heads, elbows, eyebrows, ponytails bouncing to infectious rhythms. At each concert, Conductor Sharon Lavery asked for a show of hands. "How many of you have never, ever been to an orchestra concert before?" More than 500 arms shot up at every performance. Now they have seen a huge stage covered with musicians, who created the wondrous music of Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky. For themes from "Pirates of the Caribbean," Sharon donned appropriate attire and asked the audience, "Which do you want me to conduct with, the hook or the sword?" The hook is black and nasty, but the fearsome sword is very long and wins three out of three. and if you looked a little carefully, you'd see that someone in every section of the orchestra is wearing a pirate hat or stockings or eye patch. Even the serene face of principal cellist Mary Anne Steinberger is topped by a scarlet Jack Sparrow headscarf. Gotta love it. For all the wealth of music, the intricate organization of logistics, the chance to be a knowledgeable member of a big audience, the inspiration sent out to these kids to learn to play an instrument next year in middle school, for all of these wonders, the price is steep. Ours is a professional orchestra. Ours is a professional theater venue with professional staff. So none of this marvelous Wednesday morning would have happened without the insightful generosity of the Downey Kiwanis Foundation. The orchestra, the school children, their families, the entire City of Downey - we all owe gratitude and thanks to the Kiwanis Foundation, because they continue to believe in the power of good music to shape good young lives. If you are interested in supporting the orchestra's concert season and its Music in the Schools outreach - in a small way, in a big way - please visit our website at or phone the Symphony office at (562) 403-2944. Leave a message if you'd like a board member to return your call. We'd love to talk with you. And come to our next concert on Saturday evening, Jan. 28. We don't promise Sharon Lavery in a plumy pirate hat, but you'll really like what she does with a baton. -Joyce Sherwin, Downey Symphony

********** Published: November 03, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 29