The kids jump up from their seats, laughing and pointing to the stage with huge grins on their faces. Music fills the air and they are super excited. Are they are at rock concert? (No, although the tuba player does have blue hair!) They are at a Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra performance, and they are having a ball.
Several times a season, the Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra performs in elementary schools in and around the Johns Creek area, spreading the love of classical music in a fun, educational, and non-traditional way. No one is expected to stay quiet. The orchestra loves it when the audience claps at any time during the performance, and audience participation is encouraged.
“Of all the concerts we do, these are my favorite,” remarked JCSO Music Director J. Wayne Baughman. “We are giving these children an experience they can’t get at school, and they are learning that classical music can be fun. They are our performers, supporters, and audience members of tomorrow. This is a critical mission.”
At the present time, the JCSO has two performances that it presents in the schools. The “Meet the Orchestra” performance introduces the young audience gradually to the various instrumental music families of the orchestra by virtual of a young Stan the Music Man emcee.
First, Stan welcomes the maestro and the string performers, who introduce the kids to the instruments and play a few 10-second excerpts of beautiful string-only music. This year the orchestra also featured a talented young 5th grade soloist named Elizabeth, who performed a music by Vivaldi.
Next, the woodwinds instrumentalists are brought in and introduced one by one, with short bits of music from each, from the Far East sound of the oboe to the grandfatherly bassoon. The brass enter next, demonstrating the louds and the softs, the jazzy and the outlandish. Suddenly, crashes and drumrolls sound from behind, and the kids jump up to see an entire percussion section marching down the aisle. What fun! The last instrument to join the stage is the harpist, who enthralls the room with lush waves of chords and shimmering curtains of sound. At the end, all the sections play together so the kids can hear what a complete orchestra sounds like.
On November 8, 2017 the Johns Creek Symphony performed Meet the Orchestra at Wilson Creek Elementary School in Johns Creek. “Wilson Creek Elementary was thrilled to have the Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra present Meet the Orchestra,” said Music Specialist Leslie Morgan. “No matter the performance or theory level of my students, they all had something new they took away from the program.” For the following weeks, Mrs. Morgan continued to hear accolades from both students and teachers. “The musicians were top-notch,” she said. “This is an opportunity not everyone can experience. Thanks to grant providers and the Orchestra, we were blessed this year.”
The orchestra’s second show, “Brass & Percussion Blast” concentrates on the sections of the orchestra that the kids find most fascinating. In Johns Creek, we have found that many students already take lessons on string instruments, but it is rare to find a young student studying the wind and percussion instruments. This show focuses on the brass and percussion, the origins of these instruments, and demonstrations of repertoire that are unique to these families.
Although the kids are entertained during the 50-minute concerts, there is a considerable educational component to the experience. Stan the Music Man and Maestro J. Wayne Baughman explore music terminology (such as the difference between staccato and legato) and discuss how instruments are constructed. The kids learn, for example, that a harp has pedals that control the pitch, and that the percussion section is actually the largest section of the orchestra. The maestro even points out that, sadly, his baton makes no sound at all!
The Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra’s educational programs are generally performed for 4th or 5th grade students, who shortly will be deciding whether or not to play an instrument in their school’s band or orchestra program. For many, if they do not already play an instrument, it is choice of which one they should play that is the hardest part. If time allows, after the concert the children are invited to meet the musicians, get a closer look at the instruments, and ask questions.
While the Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra would like to perform six or eight of these concerts every year, like all things it is a factor of cost. Funding for the first performance of the season was generously provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and Fulton County Arts and Culture. Another concert, location as yet to be determined, will take place in the spring of 2018, funded by World Financial Group and Transamerica Foundation.
Kent H. Davies, representing World Financial Group, was in attendance at the Wilson Creek Elementary School concert. “[The JCSO] steadfastly held the excited attention of 400 elementary students! Amazing! It was a fantastic morning seeing Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra do interactive teaching and performing with these students in Johns Creek. Maestro J. Wayne Baughman, Stan the Music Man, and the musicians gave them a once-in-a-lifetime event that they will never forget.”