Giving Kids the Gift of Music: VSO’s Student Insiders

Provided Photo

Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY

Did you know listening to Beethoven can cure headaches?* (*Not a FDA-approved claim.)

On Friday evening, my son and I attended a Vermont Symphony Orchestra (VSO) concert, part of their Sunday Matinee series (I know, it wasn’t Sunday or Matins, but Rutland’s Loyalty Parade scheduled for Sunday necessitated the calendar shift) courtesy of a program offered by the orchestra called Student Insiders.

This was the third year that the dedicated and hard-working volunteer group, Southwest Friends of the VSO, have organized the program which, thanks to donations by generous local individuals and businesses, provides free tickets to school students. Having approached 38 elementary, middle and high schools, the Southwest Friends report that 20 schools responded: Barstow; Benson; Black River; Burr and Burton; Fair Haven Elementary, Middle and High; Floodbrook; Ludlow; Mill River; Mt. Holly; Orwell; Otter Valley; Poultney; Rutland Area Christian School; Rutland Intermediate; Rutland High; Rutland Town; Tinmouth; Wallingford and West Rutland.

Ultimately, 88 kids, 82 parents or guardians and ten teachers accepted the invitation, bringing the total number of free tickets prepared to 180. And on Friday, despite tornado warnings and an eerily colored sky, they, along with other regular concert-goers, arrived at the Paramount to hear what was for some of them their first experience of classical music.

Before the concert began, a handful of kids and parents gathered in a hot upstairs room of the Paramount for a kid-friendly talk. Led by violinist Jane Kittredge, children’s-book author M.T. Anderson, and trumpet soloist Mark Emery. The children were given some background on the music they were about to hear and the people who composed it. Kael, a sophomore cellist from Rutland High School, appreciated this information. “Understanding the history behind the music made the concert richer and more enjoyable,” he said. Yummy treats for afterwards were provided by Roots the Restaurant.

I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about the first portion of programming. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s atonal 1993 Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra was not exactly my style, and I wondered what the kids would think. Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, written in 1933, was also not to my personal taste, but I believe having now witnessed the two soloists in action — Gloria Chien, whose fingers were “moving like lightening bolts” on the piano keys, according to my son, and Mark Emery on trumpet — I doubt anyone of any age could leave unimpressed by their insane skills. Zoltan, a Burr and Burton student, certainly was. He shared that it “carried my soul to a really personal area. It spoke to me, and the last movement made me smile and giggle.”

Regardless of how other students felt about the two pieces, those in my immediate vicinity conducted (ha!) themselves amazingly. I heard virtually no whispering or fidgeting. The 5th graders sitting behind and next to me seemed engaged, as was my own 5th grader. Despite his headache.

It was hot in the theatre, and that monster storm was kicking it up outside. The combination of heat and barometric pressure had proved a bit much for him. And that’s where Beethoven comes in.

Growing up in a classical musically filled house, I’ve been a Beethoven fan since I was a little girl, and like most of his works, I think the 7th Symphony is incredible. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I glanced over at one point to see nine-year-old Charlie, a student at Rutland Town school, who had never been to a concert before, leaning forward in his seat, tapping his fingers to the beat. Later, when asked by his mom, he said he loved it. Another little boy whom my father ran into the next day, gave a resounding “Yes!” when asked if he had enjoyed the concert, adding that the Beethoven was his favorite part.

My son agreed. “Beethoven was great!,” he said. “I liked all the instruments coming together and making a big loud noise. The music was exciting.” “Conducting” inconspicuously in his lap, he was particularly entertained by the percussionist. He had the best facial expressions! As he raised his mallets in preparation to play, he would also raise his eyebrows, stand a little taller and almost puff out his chest before drumming out his rhythm on the timpani. It was fabulous to watch. He was obviously having a blast up there.

After the concert was over and we walked out into the cool, post-storm calm, I asked my son how his head was. “It feels better.”

“Must have been the Beethoven,” I said.

“I think so,” he replied.

I personally want to thank the VSO for bringing your magnificent talents to Rutland, and the Southwest Friends — in what VSO Executive Director Ben Cadwallader described as a “Herculean effort” — for opening the world of music to some who may otherwise never have the opportunity. And of course, the donors who made it possible. Like soloist Mark Emery, who decided to take up the trumpet after going to a concert in high school, you — and the music — may have just changed some young person’s life.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com.

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