One moment, the subtle sounds of the N.C. Symphony filled the air.
The next, the cacophony of children playing their very first notes on horns, violins, clarinets and drums.
Such was the sonic scene May 28 when the state symphony brought its Music Discovery program to the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield. More than 50 parents and children kids came out for the free presentation, which took place in an upstairs activity room to avoid disturbing those visiting the library for more traditional reasons.
The show opened with a performance by the Ensembles in the Schools string quartet, which took great care to engage the children and encourage their participation.
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For starters, violinist David Kilbride introduced a piece arranged by Mozart and asked the children to sing along if they knew the words. Within moments, a chorus of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” had broken out.
But Kilbride didn’t stop there.
Next, he asked the kids to sing their ABCs while the quartet played the same tune. To their amazement, the letters of the alphabet song fit the music, and so did the lyrics to “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” when they repeated the exercise for a third time.
By the end of the lesson, the little ones had a basic idea of what musicians mean when they talk about the “melody” of a song.
To incorporate literature and counting into the program, Kilbride read a picture book called “Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin.” In the story, the narrator assembles an orchestra piece by piece and teaches words like “solo,” “quintet” and “octet” along the way. When the book mentioned the violin and cello, the strings ensemble played a short piece that introduced the unique timbre of the instruments.
After the show, the symphony set the kids loose in the “musical zoo,” which featured instruments from the brass, string, woodwind and percussion families. The youngsters variously jumped up and down with excitement and waited patiently in line to add their own notes to the musical conversation.
That hands-on experience plays a vital part in the Music Discovery program, said Sarah Gilpin, director of education for the symphony. Through a grant from the PNC Grow Up Great initiative, the symphony shows children during their formative years that they can play an instrument if they try.
“You never know who might be in the audience that you’re inspiring to be a future musician,” Gilpin said.
Jeffery Schall, 3, fiddled his first notes on a tiny violin with help from Kilbride. Schall’s grandma used to play the violin, and it was his favorite instrument available in the musical zoo.
“It made neat sounds,” he said.
When the state symphony asked to bring its educational show to Smithfield, the library was thrilled to accept, said Emily Childress-Campbell, head of youth services. The library has hosted musical concerts in the past, she said, but nothing that put such an emphasis on engaging the children.
“This is the most interactive music program we’ve had, and it has been wonderful,” she said. “I think it’s a great way for children to experience music in a kid-friendly setting.”