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Symphonies Need More Kidding Around

A Positive Review of the Okanagan Symphony School Concerts, Spring 2005

by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio

Rarely has Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" roused symphony goers out of their seats for a standing ovation, but it's a surefire bet a conductor's never convinced ticketholders to listen closely for fortissimo passages, leaping from their seats at recurring accented three-note motifs.

It's completely unimaginable that the maestro require his esteemed patrons to startle their neighbour with a well-timed "BOO" or neck throttle during the "sneaky bits" of Don Giovanni. That was until Okanagan Symphony Guest Conductor Michael Hall took up the baton for the 2005 Educational School Concert Series.

Hall put on by far the most entertaining OSO performance this music lover has seen in a very long time. I spent a large portion turned around admiring the squealing faces of delight behind me rather than fixated on the my normal point of attention, the first violins. Hall's rapport with the children was fantastic, his enthusiasm for music was catching, and the kids loved him for it.

He didn't resort to gross potty humour or bad music puns to win the kids over, nor did he dumb down the genius of Mozart's music. In fact, everyone left the concert that day with music terms such as "motif," "thematic development" and "cadenza" under their belts. Hall taught the children to interact with the orchestra and express themselves in the best ways children can: through movement and imagination.

"Mozart on the Move" featured selections from Mozart's Symphonies 29 & 40, two overtures and the notorious "Eine Kleine Nahtmusik." Kelowna teen prodigy Melissa Wilmot amazed us with her dazzling virtuoso playing on the Violin Concerto in G and young members of the audience played percussion onstage during the "Toy Symphony" by Mozart's dad, Leopold.

At one point my four-year-old took off running down the isle and I was mortified. An OSO manager gently reminded me it was a kid's concert and that my son was doing what came naturally to him. The concert allowed me to enjoy the world's most lovely music live and my son to burn off the Timbits he had at lunch.

I can't remember having this much fun since Natalie MacMaster step-danced on the Salmon Arm Community Centre's stage a year ago. Funny; I'm a classical violinist who's "first love" was Beethoven, yet the shows I've enjoyed most featured a fiddle-diva a la rock band and several hundred giggling, gyrating kids.

Both events weren't even part of the OSO's main concert series and were not conducted by Douglas Sanford. They were just the little nuggets that keep the OSO afloat between monthly shows, but they were the most significant to me.

Which leads me to ponder the symphony conundrum. Orchestras around the globe are dying out, yet we are willing to spend more money on entertainment than ever before! What's the problem?

Symphonies are losing their audiences because they are not catering to the people that pay the bills: their audience. The days of powdered wigs, pretentious ceremony and dry receptions have long since past. Like it or not, we've become a people of blue jeans and fast food who just want to be entertained. When we want to listen to music, we've got many thousands of artists, radio and TV stations vying to win our dollar.

So why should we settle for uncomfortable protocol which, for example, demands the audience to remain silent between the movements, denying our impulse to show our appreciation after a moving musical experience, only because it has been done that way for centuries? Why should we leave the kids at home because it's been long believed that "kids and symphonies just don't mix," yet isn't symphonic music the staple music of Loony Tunes and Disney?

How about this: Sell more tickets, but at lower prices. Take a local poll and play the music people want to hear. Let us clap between the movements. Follow in Andre Rieu's footsteps and put the players in bright colours, making it more visually stimulating. Give projection screens and multimedia presentations a try.

Feature more pop acts with symphony backup (Natalie's show sold out at $40 per person!) Designate a seperate family area at the front and schedule kid-friendly content before intermission at 1/2 price so parents aren't out big bucks when they have to leave early.

And keep bringing in friendly, approachable conductors like Michael Hall who love the music and are open to change.

The school concert left me in high spirits knowing the OSO is moving forward in a fresh direction and I look forward to many wonderful concerts with the new Maestro. See you there. I'll be the one chasing after the kid with the sticky face.

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