Cabrillo Festival For Kids
August 4 at 1 p.m., Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium:
Free family concert and tour of the orchestra and Gregory Smith’s The Animated Orchestra.
The Cabrillo Festival opens Friday night with its usual array of new music, performers and of course, ‘all things Kronos.’ On Sunday, for kids and families, there’s an encore performance of composer Gregory Smith’s highly imaginative story, The Animated Orchestra, about a ferret that makes his way into an instrument repair shop. Ferrets, you will remember, are insatiably curious, and fearless.
We spoke to Smith earlier this week about the reprise, which premiered last year. There are a few subtle changes in the 29-minute piece: “some articulation, balances, and some slight changes in narration.” Which Smith does himself.
The piece has been extremely popular and is one of the many templates these days for ways to bring a young audience to concert music. Smith: “I handle subject matter that might not be entertaining to some; the well-entranced might take offense at the triter aspects, but my credo is that to reach this emerging audience you have to use disguise. Once kids think they’re being taught, they shut down. So the first thing is to engage and then to educate.”
Smith, 56, grew up in a Winesburg of a town in Ohio and as a kid had no exposure to concerts. “I thought all classical musicians were European, with unprounceable last names.”
He has gone on something of a crusade since, offering some 800 performances by 160 orchestras across the country. And now, abroad. Among his ‘champions’ is Marin Alsop, music director of the Cabrillo Festival and one of Leonard Bernstein’s last protégés. She helped start Smith on his journey to help develop symphonic family/education concert works.
“I’m looking at 4th and 5th graders,” Smith said, “and I want to lead them to ‘the well.’”
To do that Smith believes in broadening the use of music sources, including film music and video game music. “I’m in favor of the lines (between classical and new music) being blurred. I think that’s part of the problem, thinking of classical music in only one context. The truth is the old war horses aren’t going anywhere, they’re not going to be cancelled out; in fact they may draw new life by being linked to newer music.”
In the last few years, among his many projects, Smith has been working to encourage — and empower — young musicians to become composers, particularly through The Student Composer Project, dreamed up by Brevard Symphony conductor, Christopher Confessore. In 2011, in the last iteration of the project, kids submitted melodies to teachers in four elementary schools in Sarasota Florida. Smith then visited the schools and worked with students to refine their work. Then over a few months he developed a concert based on a four-movement suite, each movement representing one of the four schools. The program was underwritten by the Brevard Symphony.
“It was very successful. Everyone benefitted: students, parents, and members of the orchestra — whose students these were in some cases. At the concerts the student composers were introduced before their work was performed. Teachers were recognized. It was the kind of project where even if you weren’t one of the composers it became a demonstration of how one could succeed.
“The message was that if you want to write music, if you’re willing to make the effort and you’re willing to learn about music, you can do this.”