orKIDstra: delightful music outreach to children

orKIDstra audienceThe local newspaper had an article about a concert called orKIDstra. It combined building both literacy skills and enthusiasm for classical music in preschoolers.

I wondered if it is strictly a local program, or something larger. Yes, sort of, to both questions.

The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra has called its outreach to pre-school students “orKIDstra” for more than 15 years. Its emphasis and structure have changed a few times. It has used current combination of percussion ensembles and children’s books for about five years.

A web search found classical music programming for children called orKIDstra in three different countries. Besides the clever pun, I find no connection.

Fewer and fewer schools offer music instruction. Independent outreaches provide an important resource. Children can  benefit from exposure to other music besides the popular music industry’s offerings. At the same time, classical music can increase its audience.

Greensboro Symphony Orchestra orKIDstra


Greensboro Symphony Orchestra percussion ensemble

The newspaper article described this season’s next to last orKIDstra concert .

I attended the final one and caught up with Daniel Crupi (the orchestra’s Director of Development & Public Relations) and Peter Zlotnick (the orchestra’s principal timpanist and coordinator of orKIDstra) on May 21.

The orchestra offers special music education programming for all ages of students. Each has its unique name.

The current version of orKIDstra targets 3-5-year-olds and combines music with literacy. The orchestra’s percussion ensemble accompanies the reading and acting out a book. The program has three primary goals:

  1. Emphasize the connection between reading and hearing, and how the music can enhance the printed words and pictures.
  2. Encourage interest in classical music (A percussion ensemble has no classical repertoire. I personally don’t see how it can accomplish this goal, but exposing children to any music besides popular culture has to help.)
  3. Select literature that carries some kind of positive message, such as diversity and inclusion.

For its most important concert, it collaborates with  Greensboro Children’s Development. They target every 4-year-old in the Head Start program. In two performances on back to back days, the concert reaches about 600 children and many of their parents.

They do not advertise the Head Start concerts to the general public. Afterward, they repeat it twice at other places for anyone who wants to come. This year the extra concerts took place at the Greensboro Science Center and the Greensboro Children’s Museum.

Audience members need to pay admission to these venues. The orKIDstra concerts themselves cost nothing to either the public or the host institution. Funding comes from grants.

Last year the performers also took it to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. It is the only time orKIDstra has left Greensboro, although the other outreach programs regularly travel within a four-county area.

Organizers usually select books by local authors. Exceptionally,  this year’s program used Pete Seeger’s story, “Abiyoyo.” The performance included projecting pages from a book and some musical notation on a screen. The screen also identified the musical selections.

Logie Meachum, story teller

Logie Meachum, story teller

Story-teller Logie Meachum held a copy of the book in his hands. Sometimes  he opened it to read from it. Otherwise, he improvised, shouted, whispered, danced, and fell on the floor as appropriate.

In the story, a boy annoys villagers with his ukulele. His father, a magician, absolutely offends them. He makes things disappear just as they want to use them. So the villagers ostracize them.

Yes. Seeger used, and explained, that word. Children learn vocabulary from hearing a variety of words. They don’t need to remember or understand all of them.

A giant named Abiyoyo threatened to eat everyone in the village. While everyone else tried to run away, the outcasts ran toward the giant. The boy played a dance on his ukulele that set Abiyoyo’s name.

No one had ever honored him with a song, so instead of eating the two, the giant began to dance. He danced until he got tired and lay down. Then the magician made him disappear. The grateful villagers welcomed the two back home, ukulele, magic wand, and all.

Anyone working with a group of a preschoolers must earn their attention. When the percussionists started to play, one little girl immediately put her fingers in her ears. Soon enough, she and all the others became absorbed in the performance. Children danced along with Meachum. Their eyes tracked his every move for the entire half-hour.

Other orKIDstra programs worldwide

orkidstraI found an announcement for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra‘s 2016-17 orKIDStra series. The orchestra’s website has a search box, and I found links to pages as early as 2006.

Like the Greensboro series, the Rochester series combines music with stories. Unlike in Greensboro, the concerts all take place in the orchestra’s regular hall.

The series comprises  concerts on four Sunday afternoons, aimed at children from 3-9 years old. The entire orchestra performs well-known concert music and occasionally improvises.

The coming season’s series includes a semi-staged performance of The Pirates of Penzance, music from Harry Potter, a world tour of stories (with music by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and Copland), and a centennial celebration of America’s national parks.

In Ottawa, OrKidstra means a charity organized through The Leading Note, a classical music store. It provides musical opportunities for children of low-income families. The Leading Note Foundation has recently announced a name change to OrKidstra.

Ottawa’s OrKidstra offers music lessons and participation in ensembles to children ages 5-18. It was founded in 2007, inspired by El Sistema, a network of children’s orchestras in the towns and villages of Venezuela.

More social development than just a music program, OrKidstra works with children from more than 42 cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It uses music to help children from very diverse backgrounds unite as cooperating community.

orkidstraMy search turned up mostly announcements of concerts. They provide little information beyond the location of concerts. In no particular order,

Orkidstra in the Philippines,  as in Ottawa, is a music education program rather than a concert series.

So I have referred to a variety of musical outreach to children united only by the name—not even the combination of capital letters used!

On the other hand, many orchestras and foundations reach out to children under other names. El Sistema has inspired dozens of other efforts, but only one called OrKidstra.

Classical music has attracted organized opposition from ignorant people who consider it a snobbish luxury. They claim it appeals only to rich, old white people. They have never attended concerts themselves to see the audiences’ diversity.

OrKIDstra and other children’s outreach programs fulfill many needs. For one, they expose a new generation to music. The children will love it despite dwindling opportunity to study it in school or hear it on the radio.

Author’s photos

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