This month the New York Philharmonic introduces an innovative new series that targets its youngest audience ever. As far as anyone knows, the Very Young People's Concerts (VYPCs) are the first such Philharmonic program created specifically for three- to five-year-olds. The venerable Young People's Concerts (YPCs), designed for ages six through twelve, have, of course, been going strong since 1924, and gained national popularity when Leonard Bernstein brought them to television in the late 1950s for what would become a long run.
"Our Young People's Concerts have been a major influence on generations of music lovers," says Philharmonic President and Executive Director Zarin Mehta. "We are very pleased to offer our youngest listeners this brand-new series which we hope will start them on the path to discovering the joys of music."
When toddlers began turning up in serious numbers at the YPCs, it became clear that there was an audience for a series catering to the pre-school set. "So many very young kids have been attending the YPCs that I thought maybe we could do a better job with a program designed specifically for them," explains Theodore Wiprud, the Philharmonic's Director of Education. In fact, those instincts were correct, and the series nearly sold out shortly after it was announced.
While the VYPCs have been designed by educators familiar with the needs of pre-schoolers, their uniqueness lies in the participation of 12 Philharmonic musicians who have been part of the planning process from the start. "The musicians' creativity is what made this all possible," says Mr. Wiprud. "It's all about their personal interaction with the kids."
Those connections begin the moment the children walk through the doors of Merkin Concert Hall, where they will be greeted by Philharmonic musicians and invited to play interactive games. The format, designed in consultation with Dr. Lori Custodero, assistant professor of music and music education at Columbia University's Teachers College, then moves on to a live performance of short works, after which participants can try out child-size violins, cellos, and other instruments.
"This series is designed to engage children with music's inherent challenges and to explore possibilities within themselves," says Dr. Custodero, remembering vividly her own "supreme interest" in music that was kindled by Bernstein and the YPCs. "We are taking what we know about how young children learn about music and applying it to a concert setting," says Dr. Custodero. "This hasn't been done before."
Margaret Shakespeare writes frequently about music.