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Musical petting zoo helps a sound investment for children, say parents

Published on: December 23, 2015

By KEVIN BRADY

Campbell Gerling, 8, looks on as her friend Lexie Maes, 5, tries the tuba for the first time with the help of Chris Smalling, band director at Osceola Middle School. Kevin Brady photos.

Campbell Gerling, 8, looks on as her friend Lexie Maes, 5, tries the tuba for the first time with the help of Chris Smalling, band director at Osceola Middle School.
Kevin Brady photos.

Their small arms not quite long enough to hold the violin or strong enough to hold the tuba, but that didn’t matter a bit to organizers of the “Musical Instrument Petting Zoo” Saturday, Dec. 19, at SouthShore Regional Library.

This experience was all about hitting keys on the piano, plucking the strings on the violin and blowing into the tuba for the first time. And if the cacophony was a little jumbled, that was fine with Elizabeth A. Baker, executive director and founder of The New Music Conflagration, Inc. Baker was only too happy to let children explore the piano and other instruments, learning to create their own sounds.

“Sometimes the parents hover over [the children] and tell them ‘you have to hit this key’ but I tell them it doesn’t matter. They can explore,” said Baker, a professional concert pianist and composer.  “These are just sounds we are trying to get and it doesn’t always matter that they [put their finger on the right key]. Yes, you should know technique but you should just love music.”

“We come to the library three to four times a week for their children’s programs, but his mom is shopping so I brought him along today,” said Riverview resident Philip Rountree, who brought his son Mark, 3, to the library for the free event Saturday. “Music is a way to broaden his horizons and open his mind to different ways of thinking.”

Based in St. Petersburg, The New Music Conflagration, Inc. “seeks to further public awareness and perception of contemporary concert music through a variety of activities, including music workshops, a chamber music series, outreach concerts as well as compilation albums,” according to the group’s website.

“For music to continue to grow, we need to get that young audience,” said Baker, who specializes in experimental music. “I look at [New Music Conflagration’s outreach programs] as a way of teaching kids about new music and introducing their ears to new sounds so in the future that creates opportunities for [new] composers.”

Only two days after flying in from a performance at The Juilliard School, Elizabeth A. Baker, executive director and founder of The New Music Conflagration, Inc., was in Ruskin helping children explore musical instruments, many for the first time.

Only two days after flying in from a performance at The Juilliard School, Elizabeth A. Baker, executive director and founder of The New Music Conflagration, Inc., was in Ruskin helping children explore musical instruments, many for the first time.

Will Colunbach, 5, looks on as his sister Jordyn, 7, is walked through a mini piano lesson by Elizabeth A. Baker.

Will Colunbach, 5, looks on as his sister Jordyn, 7, is walked through a mini piano lesson by Elizabeth A. Baker.

“The purpose today is to get kids who may not be exposed to instruments at their own schools a chance to play those instruments and get a feel for what might work for them and have that experience and maybe take private lessons or join the school,” said Chris Smalling, band director at Osceola Middle School. “They are getting an experience and they are excited. Music is part of the human experience. It is a part of life. It’s something we should know about and have some basic knowledge of.”

The unique petting zoo was funded by Friends of the SouthShore Regional Library.

For more information on The New Music Conflagration and upcoming events and concerts, visit www.thenewmusicconflagration.org.

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