Family Arts: Why children should be exposed to the arts

Published: Saturday, Jan. 7 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

David Cho of the Utah Symphony conducts a performance for elementary school students at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah on Feb. 8, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News Archives

Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles examining the issue of exposing children to the arts and what’s being done to provide both arts education in the schools and opportunity for arts experiences for children and families. You can read the second here.

MIDVALE — At 7:45 a.m. on a chilly December morning, a truck with “Utah Symphony” plastered on the side pulled up to the back of Hillcrest High School in Midvale.

Within a few minutes, the timpani were set up at the back of the stage in the auditorium and a harp, wrapped up in two or three layers, was wheeled in. A symphony staffer walked between chairs, clutching a map and muttering while he rearranged things to fit the orchestra’s organization. High school stage crew members helped bring in music stands and chairs and adjusted the curtains and stage backdrop.

The first musician arrived at 8:45 a.m. — a percussionist. If a school participating in the outreach program is within a 15-mile radius of Abravanel Hall, the musicians drive themselves. Staffers were placing signs throughout the school to help new musicians navigate the unconventional venue. More musicians came in, pulling off layers of clothing and putting pieces of instruments together.

Tuning began. The harpist took a good 20 minutes to do the job. The 85 musicians navigated scales and octaves as the librarian put sheet music on stands.

Students — a bunch of hopping, skipping, pushing and shushing 4th graders — trickled in at 9:20 a.m. By 9:35, the auditorium was nearly full. Students mimicked the orchestra sounds and waved to their friends. The concert began at 9:45.

Navigating a program including Tchaikosky, Handel and Dvoarak, Assistant Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic verbally dissected the orchestra section by section, instrument by instrument, teaching the students how it all works.

“The most important part of the orchestra is you,” he said near the end.

Within minutes, children were enthusiastically clapping along to music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

When it was over, the musicians exited the stage almost as quickly as the students left the auditorium. They had a brief break to grab a snack or drink, to adjust stands and chalk bows and tune instruments again.

A whole new group of hundreds of 4th graders would be ready for another concert at 11 a.m.

This is just one example of many arts outreach programs put on by professionals. Arts organizations, combining efforts with educators, legislators and school board members, are constantly putting hours of work into creating and improving programs like these, all in the name of exposing Utah children to the arts.

Marilyn Whitchurch, a mother of three from American Fork, loves taking her children to a variety of artistic events.

“We like to expose them to the arts,” she said. “I think there’s a lot they can learn from them … different cultures, different ways of looking at things.”

Whitchurch discussed an occasion when a Vietnamese percussion group visited her son’s band class. The family attended a concert by that same group that night. Her son loved every bit of it.

“I really appreciate it when teachers go the extra mile to take them to things like this or have them come to the schools,” Whitchurch said.

In fact, a great effort by school administrators, district officials, teachers, and symphony musicians and staff went into the 50-minute program aimed at introducing the 9- and 10-year-olds to a music that perhaps many of them wouldn’t hear otherwise.

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