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Classical Kids Part 1: A Child's Guide to Benaroya Hall

Published on: October 14, 2012

Soundbridge Credit Tracey Marshall PhotographyEditor's note: See also Part 2 of this series: "Musical Adventures Beyond Benaroya"

You want your child to be emotionally intelligent? To work toward a goal, take turns, be patient, physically strong? The music called “classical” has been nurturing these skills in both players and audiences for many generations. Now it’s your turn to discover why.

A great place to start is Soundbridge, Seattle Symphony’s Music Discovery Center, located behind sidewalk-level windows on the corner of Second Avenue and Union in downtown Seattle. A room about the size of two preschool classrooms opens up music for all ages, focusing on child-size interactivity. Hands-on instruments and exhibits include a cello fastened to the floor in front of a chair: sit down, hold the bow, and play! Or pick up a baton and conduct a virtual orchestra.

Friendly staffers guide little fingers on keyboards and wind instruments. (And disinfect them between uses.) Pop on headphones and listen to hundreds of pieces of classical music. There are clean bathrooms, kid-size coat spaces, and a generous-sized multi-purpose room for classes and concerts.

Laura Reynolds, who has just launched her first season as the Symphony’s new Education and Community Manager, is enthusiastic about new programs at this 11-year-old “sleeping gem.”

“There aren’t any other orchestras in the country that have a space like this,” says Reynolds, who trained as a French horn player at University of Southern California and came to Seattle after music-in-schools work in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

“Our mission is to develop musical curiosity and musical creation," she says. "Classical music is a way for kids to start exploring their world. We ask questions that are not yes or no, so they start thinking critically. ‘What about that music made you feel happy or sad?’ These are skills kids will take back to school, and into relationships with friends, for all their lives.”

And of course, the music models strength and cooperation. Ever watched the physical effort involved in making good sounds on orchestral instruments? Realized how musicians must take turns and follow directions to make great music together?

Soundbridge highlights: Musical storytelling to "First Concerts"

Ready to let your kids experience it for themselves? Try some of Soundbridge's newly expanded, and affordable, programs. Highlights include:

- A new “First Concerts” series, featuring individual Seattle Symphony musicians at a cost of only $6.50 for kids, $8.50 for adults (advance tickets). Two 35-minute sessions, one for ages 2–5 and another for ages 5–10, will allow kids an up-close view of what it takes to play, say, a violin or an oboe.

Soundbridge Credit Tracey Marshall Photography- "Free play" hours five days a week where kids (and grownups!) can drop in for a price of $5 and try a small cello, bang on drums or try making sounds with an oboe, clarinet, or bassoon. Fridays are pay-as-you-can at Soundbridge and include musical storytelling (1:45 p.m.).

Soundbridge is also offering series of classes for the first time, which include three age-appropriate, eight-week experiences.

- “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars,” for infants up to 12 months and their caregivers/parents.

- For ages 6-9, there’s Homeschool Tuesdays: Seattle Opera teaching artist Alyssa Stone explores musical storytelling, exploring instruments and characters with “Peter and the Wolf,” to conclude with the children’s making up a new ending.

- “Musical Storytelling Around the World,” for ages 3–5, follows an animal story through indigenous rhythms, instruments and songs from around the world, with kids creating songs together for their own opera-like finale.

More at Benaroya: For younger audiences

The American classical composer Aaron Copland wrote, "So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning."

If you haven’t yet visited Benaroya Hall, where those inspiring words are literally etched in stone (above the sidewalk, around the corner from Soundbridge), you might be depriving your child’s spirit, and your own, of some great inspiration.

There are many offerings at Benaroya that will nurture your family's spirit this season. (By the way, “season” means all the way through June. Everything launches this month.) Here are highlights:

- The Tiny Tots series of half-hour concerts (for newborns to age six), featuring dynamic early childhood performers Lisa and Linda of Let It Shine!, play in the 500-seat Nordstrom Recital Hall with pre-concert play activities in the lobby. Each concert features a different combination of instruments, appropriate to the up-close environment of the recital hall. The next Tiny Tots concert is “Sing & Sway Musical Adventure,” on November 16–17, with famous, toddler-friendly melodies by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Brahms.

- A December 1 "Holiday Symphony" in the Nordstrom Recital Hall is also designed for younger audiences. It features holiday music from around the world and a sing-along.

- On May 4, children's music superstar Caspar Babypants plays with the Symphony in the Nordstrom Recital Hall, with original songs and arrangements plus classics.

- The Gilman Family Discover Music Series is a series of concerts in the “big hall,” The Mark Taper Auditorium. Maestro Morlot himself conducts most of these (an unusual commitment for a major orchestra’s music director, but this one makes education a major mission). The series highlights rhythm, harmony and melody, with the whole orchestra onstage and pre-concert activities in the lobby. At Soundbridge, ages 6 and up can enjoy an interactive “Discover Music Preview” class the week before each concert. The first concert is “A Little Night Music for Halloween,” Saturday morning, October 27.

For older kids

- On Friday October 26, “Sonic Evolution” brings rock and classical together, conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot.

- The Symphony’s "Beyond the Score" three-concert series is a multimedia/concert experience designed for families with kids ages 12 and up. The opening half of the concert engages the viewer/listener with visuals of the composer and his time, and a narrator zeroing in on specific moments in the piece, while the orchestra illustrates. After intermission, the orchestra will play the whole piece without interruption, putting it all together. The first Beyond the Score concert on is Mahler's Fourth Symphony on December 4, featuring Mahler's use of folk material. A particular standout is Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony on May 5.

- Another excellent concert series that's a good fit for families with older kids is the Wyckoff Masterworks series, where, through the Symphony's Family Connections program, a paying adult can bring a companion ages 8 to 18 for free. Three upcoming Masterworks concerts of particular note are:

- On November 8, 10 and 11, a wild ride with American composer John Adams conducting his own music and Beethoven’s. Adam's music has been used in the soundtrack for the computer game Civilization IV, and the video game Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

- On November 15, 17 and 18, the thrilling Brahms Piano Concerto #2, with Grammy-Award-winning pianist Emanuel Ax solo-ing.

- Looking ahead, on March 28 and 30, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is an opportunity to watch the viola become a famous female storyteller.

- Finally, a new series titled Symphony Untuxed is also a good fit for families with older kids. The five concerts are 60 to 75 minutes long, with an early start time of 7 p.m. and a shorter, no-intermission format. The first concert is "Haydn's Drumroll Symphony" on October 19.

If you go…

- Benaroya Hall is located between Second and Third Avenue between Union and University in downtown Seattle. (Consider not driving: The Metro bus tunnel leads right there.) On the Third Avenue side, there’s coffee, snacks, souvenirs, brochures, and the box office. Browse the Seattle Symphony calendar here, and the Family Music calendar here.)

- The "hall" in Benaroya is actually two halls. At the entrance at the corner of Third and University, friendly ushers welcome you into a grand, airy lobby, the entrance to the 2000-seat Mark Taper Auditorium, where the full orchestra plays. At the Union Street corner, underneath the Copland quote, the 500-seat Nordstrom Recital Hall features small-group performances. Even a grownup gets a childlike “wow” from the two giant Chihuly chandeliers by the Hall’s main entrances.

- Soundbridge music center is located on the corner of Second and Union. In addition to its  programs, its multi-purpose is available to rent for recitals or lectures, or musical birthday parties, arranged by Soundbridge staff

Seattle writer Gigi Yellen's children grew up sharing her with radio audiences as she hosted, interviewed, and wrote about classical music for KUOW and Classical KING FM. She introduced ParentMap readers to Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot in our "Someone You Should Know" feature back in January.

Photo credit: Tracey Marshall Photography; courtesy of the Seattle Symphony

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