Fifth-graders treated to live symphony performance

DOWNEY - Oh, here they come again - nine school buses pulling in tight beside Downey's Civic Theatre, enough yellow to blind you.They spill out their loads of fifth-graders, who form orderly lines and file inside, trying to control their excitement. It's just too exhilarating for one girl, though. Her face glowing, she lifts her arms high and does a quick pirouette, then steps back into place. Once again they have come to hear a special concert played by a live symphony orchestra. They already know five of the principal musicians who visit Downey's elementary schools to demonstrate musical instruments and concepts, but today it's a field trip to the big theatre with an entire stage full of musicians. Same electricity year after year. This is the ninth year the Downey Symphony has beguiled its audience with music of Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. The ninth year the wizards at Downey Unified School District have created a masterpiece of coordination, busing in 1,570 kids, in three gorgeously-timed waves, the orchestra playing its program three times over. It's always been like this. Conductor Sharon Lavery sings out the opening notes of Beethoven's Symphony Nov. 5 and the kids sing the notes that follow, in time, in tune. They conduct in their seats, fingering invisible clarinets, bowing an invisible violin, a sea of wiggling arms and heads. They love heft - the impressive stretch of a bassoon, the mighty mass of the tuba. They melt inside the cellos' warm harmonies. Just like always. They know what's coming when Sharon dons an eye patch and pirate hat - and they vote unanimously that she conduct music from "Pirates of the Caribbean" with a broad sword. Same thing every year, kids leaning forward to watch, kids keeping time on their knees, a well-informed audience. Many will take up an instrument in middle school next year, leading to appreciative, informed adult audiences. The same intention as always. But now a correction. It is not the same thing. For 1,570 reasons it is not the same thing. The big difference this year, the enormous difference every year, is that we are reaching different individual kids every time. At this concert Sinnedin and Jacob from Rio San Gabriel School stayed in their seats (barely), vigorously conducting and playing. Sebastian and William from Rio Hondo eyed the tympanist's mallets closely and decided they liked these kettle drums best of all, and their classmate Jasman wants to play piano when she goes to middle school. Longtime Symphony Board members Gloria Crum and Ruth Hillecke stayed for all three concerts, listening, watching, so gratified by the students' reaction. Ruth beamed and said, "Ten kids hugged us and said thank you." And we have a few more thank-yous. To Downey Unified's Instructional Support Program, Director Janice Hobson and her staff, including Wanda Iacovitti, Robert, for supplying those dazzling buses and organizing everything; to the ever-efficient and graceful Denise Takano, a continuing joy; to the super-generous Downey Kiwanis Foundation that underwrite considerable costs of theater and musicians; to our excellent elementary school teachers; to our resilient Sharon Lavery and the orchestra; and special thanks to you 1,580 reasons for doing it all again next year.

********** Published: November 1, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 29

FeaturesEric Pierce