LPO `teaching concert’ uncovers building blocks of classical music

The students who gathered inside Holy Cross Student Center on April 12 probably will never listen to classical music the same way again.

Instead of allowing the music to simply wash over them, or tuning it out altogether, the young audience members were asked to become more active listeners, and to see classical music as a deliberate and cohesive layering of rhythm, melody and harmony by the composer. They learned that, at its best, classical music tells a story and can evoke emotions ranging from fear to joy.

The interactive, one-hour “Young People’s Concert,” subtitled “A Musical Delivery,” was presented by the 67-member Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. In between each classical selection, actor A.J. Allegra, portraying a UPS deliveryman, ran on stage to literally “unpack” the various elements of music. After each element was defined, the young audience members from host school Holy Cross and guest school St. Dominic were asked to pick out that element in the subsequent musical piece.

For example, after defining one of music’s most basic building blocks – the regular, repeated pattern of beats called “rhythm” – the orchestra demonstrated rhythm by performing the quirky, staccato theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” by Hans Zimmer.

Next to be unpacked was melody, with the LPO musicians performing Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”). Concert narrator James Bartelle described melody as the music’s “voice.”

“Now you see how a melody can move up and down. You see how it can sing,” Bartelle said. “That’s the thing about melody. It doesn’t need words or even a singer.”

The orchestra, led by educational outreach conductor David Torns, demonstrated how melody can go up and down “in steps” or in “great leaps.” Allegra sang in monotone to remind the audience how boring music would be if it never ventured beyond a couple of notes.

The musical element of harmony was introduced next, with Holy Cross’ “Bengal Band” of sixth and seventh graders playing the melody of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and the LPO supplying the harmony. Allegra put the icing on the cake by singing the lyrics.

Yet even without lyrics, like a great painting, classical music can tell a story, Bartelle said, noting that the various “timbres” of each orchestral instrument give “color” to music. To illustrate this idea, the narrator asked the students to pick out the various timbres at play in the storm scene from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6: the bass and cello herald the approaching storm; the timpani creates the cracks of thunder; the trombone suggests the storm’s peak; and the rhythm slows and the strings soothe after the storm has passed.

The teaching concert concluded with “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky, during which the audience got its own chance to play “composer” by deciding which instruments would play the melody, which would provide the harmony and how many times the rhythm would be repeated.

Amanda Wuerstlin, the LPO’s associate director of education, said that about 12,000 schoolchildren in Southeast Louisiana have been exposed to classical music this school year through the LPO’s Young People’s Concerts for second graders on up, and its Early Explorers program for grades prekindergarten through 1.

For more information on the LPO’s educational programs, visit www.lpomusic.com/education.


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