Bright yellow buses lined up in front of Abravanel Hall exhaled freshly combed 11-year-olds filled with the vigor of a field trip. Scores of them stood in eager anticipation, waiting in line for their turn to enter the gleaming gold hall.
Led by their teachers, oohs and aahs filled the building as the fifth-graders took their seats.
They were about to actually see what they'd been learning about.
The lights dimmed and a hush fell over the young audience. There was hesitant applause for the entering conductor. Necks strained for a better view and small legs pushed to the edge of seats as David Cho raised his baton. The performance began.
This month, fifth-graders from the greater Salt Lake area been experiencing concerts like this one through the Utah Symphony's youth education program.
"They're so blown away," said Kareena Steed, a teacher. "They're inspired."
Started by Maurice Abravanel himself, the outreach effort is unique in that it offers a full symphony orchestra performance free to elementary schools. It has been an ongoing tradition for more than 40 years.
Funded in part by the Utah State Legislature and the Utah State Office of Education, the Professional Outreach Program to Schools, or POPS, works to integrate the arts into education and society.
This opportunity POPS provides for fifth-graders to attend a performance is the first exposure to the Symphony for most students in attendance.
"It's such a good opportunity," Steed said. "What other opportunity will they have to experience something like this?"
But the experience, titled "Classical Music, Classified," begins long before the students enter Symphony Hall.
Trained volunteer docents travel to schools across the valley prior to performances to teach fifth-graders about classical music, Abravanel Hall and proper symphony etiquette.
"The best gifts the docents have to give the kids is to prepare them to listen," said Beverly Hawkins, Symphony education manager.
Along with learning about composers of the pieces that will be played, the docents prepare students for the part they will play in the performance.
Cho, associate conductor led both the Symphony and the audience throughout the event. The students clapped to Beethoven and Bizet as they had rehearsed in their classrooms.
Slides were projected above the orchestra to demonstrate key points and reiterate vocabulary Cho described to the students between pieces.
A variety of orchestral pieces were played, including excerpts from ballets, overtures, concertos, tone poems, soundtracks, operas and symphonies.
In planning performances, Hawkins said, "We believe that you want to meet the kids where they are musically."
Whether or not the kids have seen a symphony before, they've been to a movie, and that's where the worlds overlap, Hawkins said.
Smiles spread across faces as the familiar notes of John Williams' "Hedwig's Theme" from the Harry Potter films echoed through the hall.
A sea of 11-year-olds clapped to Beethoven's "Overture to Egmont," tapped their feet to "Les Toreadors" from "Carmen" and let their imaginations run wild with "Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky.
David Price, a recent high school graduate, played a Vivaldi violin concerto, leading one student to say, "They've worked so hard and followed their dreams and maybe I can follow my dreams when I grow up too."
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