The houses grew fewer and farther between as fields filled in the gaps forming ever larger expanses of open land. I was headed west, perhaps beyond the official “Greater Philadelphia Region” coverage of LocalArtsLive, but it didn’t matter because I wanted to see “Jack in the Beanstalk” by Melissa Dunphy. I was not alone. Mini-vans and SUVs filled the parking lot of the Fine Arts center at Lincoln University west of Kennett Square. OK, so maybe I was the only adult buying a single ticket, but family programs need recognition, too, and, besides, it should be fun.
The Kennett Symphony was formed in 1940 and it is Chester County, Pennsylvania’s only professional orchestra. Included in its schedule of six concerts each year is a children’s concert followed by an instrument petting zoo. (For those unfamiliar with this activity – it’s a chance for children to touch and play the instruments and meet the musicians.) Youth would also perform in this concert. First was a winner of one of Kennett Symphony’s instrument competitions, and second was the appearance of the Kennett Symphony Children’s Chorus.
Families filled the seats in the auditorium with children possibly outnumbering adults. Then silence overtook the room as the musicians prepared to play Handel’s “Entrance of the Queen of Sheba”. The children were captivated. After each piece, music director, Mary Woodmansee Green, invited different sections of the small chamber orchestra to come forward to talk about their instrument, demonstrate how it worked, and give a very brief demonstration. The most entertaining instrument was the bassoon reed. Played on its own, it had the distinct sound of a duck call. Nicole Ozdowski, a student at Maple Newtown High School, then demonstrated remarkable skill with with the flute while accompanied by the orchestra in Hanri Vieuxtemps “Souvenir d’Amerique”.
The final piece of the concert was a new composition by local composer, Melissa Dunphy. She favors dramatic or political art music so I was curious to see what she would do with a commission for children’s music. The result was brilliant! I expect to be hearing it in mini-vans across the nation stuck on repeat play someday, but until then, here’s a brief description.
Jack and the Beanstalk reminded me very much of another great children’s piece, “Peter and the Wolf”. Lloyd Bankson Roach, founder of BrandywineRadio narrated while the chamber orchestra and children’s choir would follow each section with a musical dramatization. Various instruments took on characters like the bassoon sad cow, and the drum rap for each golden egg. The children in the choir clearly enjoyed singing along – especially the very effective giant’s snore. The double bass and other instruments started the low, rumbling part of the snore and the children followed with the high almost whistley part. Fortunately Dunphy was far more effective in creating these sounds and music than I am at describing them. Jack and the Beanstalk has all the features of piece that could have wide spread appeal to children: a well known story, easy to follow characters, fun sound effects, and a chance to sing along.
If you missed this concert there’s still another chance to go. A second performance is scheduled for this Sunday, March 10th at 2pm in West Chester. For more details and tickets, click here. It’s a great experience and a lot of fun for only $5 per ticket, so grab the kids and go!
* Photo: Matt Dunphy
Disclaimer: This article is an observation from the viewpoint of a “regular member” of the audience, not a critical review.