If you were raised in St. Louis, you undoubtedly remember the thrill of a class trip to hear the power and glory of a Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performance. Depending upon your age, it could have been at the Odeon Theater, the Loretto-Hilton Theatre, Kiel Opera House, or Powell Symphony Hall where you first experienced the excitement of a live classical music concert.
The rich tradition of the Symphony's education concerts resumes October 16 as another season of concerts begins for students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
The first free concerts for students were performed on Saturday mornings in 1922, instituted by Rudolph Ganz during his first season as music director. Maestro Ganz enjoyed introducing the young audiences to the unique qualities of the individual instruments as they fused into one great orchestral sound. He established a wonderful rapport with the students and by his last season, in 1926-27, the number of student concerts had increased to ten.
Although Ganz's appointment as music director was roundly criticized at the time due to his lack of conducting expertise, the student concerts he initiated are a wonderful legacy. Indeed, after his resignation from the Orchestra, the March 16, 1927, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined: "To the schoolboy and schoolgirl of St. Louis, every creed and color, Rudolph Ganz brought the message of good music."
The concerts for students continued to be performed in subsequent years, but it was not until 1966 that the Symphony's Women's Association (now the Volunteer Association) formally began and sponsored the Kinder Konzert program. Aimed at children ages 4 to 8, the program came to the attention of orchestra leaders in other cities as well and is now a regular staple of most major orchestral seasons.
The Kinder Konzert program has since expanded into three concert series: Kinder Konzerts for children in grades K through 3, Young People's Concerts for grades 4 to 6, and the new Young Adults series for grades 7 and 8. Public, parochial, and home-schooled students, representing the entire St. Louis metropolitan area, make up the diverse audience. Schools from out-state Missouri, Illinois, and even from as far away as Iowa also have attended.
"We all know how important it is to expose young people to the arts," says Associate Conductor David Amado, who plans the programs and leads the Orchestra for the educational concerts. "Impressions made on kids can turn into cherished memories, or better yet, those impressions can be the impetus for a lifetime of artistic pursuits and satisfactions. In this over-stimulated, techno-colored, multi-tasking environment, it is easy to forget the profound pleasure of listening to live, acoustic music, written by some of the greatest creative souls of history and played by one of the finest orchestras in the world."
Before each class attends a concert, the Symphony's Community Partnership Department provides comprehensive supporting materials to help teachers prepare the students. These materials describe the concert repertoire and offer suggestions to make the concert a more rewarding experience, such as listening for distinctive rhythms and musical themes, as well as recommending supplementary CDs and books. In addition, classes are offered the opportunity to take a post-concert guided tour of Powell Symphony Hall.
"Over a period of 30 years I have been taking children from ages 2 to 12 from public, private, and church schools as well as my own children to the educational concerts at Powell Hall," says Peggy Mayfield, the Music Director at Andrews Academy in St. Louis County. "The experience of hearing a world-renowned symphony in its home setting has exposed the children to excellent music, live orchestral instruments, proper concert behavior, and an outstanding music venue."
Violinist Becky Boyer, a Kirkwood native who joined the Orchestra in 1993, fondly remembers her school's trips to hear the Symphony. "I grew up in a very musical family who instilled in me their love of music, particularly folk music," she says. "When I first attended a Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra education concert with my school, the experience was larger than life. A new world of music opened up to me.
"I continue to love a wide variety of music styles, and I think that is what is so important about the Symphony's education concerts," Boyer says. "It opens children's minds to music that has crossed cultural barriers and has survived for generations. Now, as an orchestra member, seeing five-year-olds holding hands two by two, gazing in awe at the splendor of Powell Hall, and sitting expectantly in their seats as the musicians tune up‹it's magical."
This season's Kinder Konzerts feature dance and folk music, and will be held on October 16, 22, and 23; and March 18, 19, and 25. "We sometimes forget that these great classical composers, like us, were exposed to all kinds of music," Amado says. "These concerts are designed to show how composers as varied as Bach, Bartók, Copland, Liszt and many others were inspired by the music surrounding them.
"Our Young People's Concerts are all about America," he adds. "The first concerts, on November 12 and 13, contain music written by Europeans who fled to America in the first decades of the 20th century to escape the increasingly inhospitable environment in Europe. The second set, on March 4 and 11, is dedicated to the rich contribution of our own African American composers like William Grant Still and Duke Ellington.
"We are especially thrilled this season to offer a new kind of concert for grades 7 and 8," Amado continues. "These Young Adult concerts, November 20 and April 8, are designed to explore a single masterpiece of the repertoire. For our first season, I have chosen the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven and Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. Beethoven's Fifth is certainly the archetypal symphony‹from its startlingly terse opening gesture to its soaring finale, it has become the symphony by which all others are measured. Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra is an intensely personal work by one of the 20th Century's greatest composers. Its brilliant orchestral colors aim to express the deep sadness and nostalgia for his pre-World War II homeland, Hungary."
Amado's enthusiasm reflects the commitment of the entire organization to instilling the same love of live music in youngsters that Rudolph Ganz first took to the podium on those Saturday mornings 80 years ago.
For more information, please call 314-286-4156.