A Colorado orchestra dedicated to providing interactive programs for children is premiering its first completely original work.
Founded in 1958, Inside the Orchestra began as a group that issued grants to music education programs. But in 1985, the organization shifted to creating and providing programming with a professional orchestra. In fact, Executive Director Shelby Mattingly said the organization is the world’s only professional orchestra exclusively focused on children.
That work ranges from in-school programs to performances open to the public. During the pandemic, Inside the Orchestra also strengthened its virtual and online programs. Those online efforts continue to be an important aspect of the work.
Now, this season, their Tiny Tots program is debuting its first ever original symphonic story, in the vein of Peter and the Wolf, and Circus of the Animals. The Inside the Story event is called A Surprise for Rabbit.
The group worked with Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop to develop the story.
“We always want to highlight artists in what they do best. And we knew that our role in this wasn't, we are not, writers of books,” Mattingly said. “And so we went to the best organization in town for that, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and they brought on Denise Vega, who is an award-winning children's book author, and she wrote the story.”
Inside the Orchestra Program Director Sarah Hare said everyone can relate to the kind of search that the rabbit goes through in the story.
“It feels really familiar and approachable for kids and offers them an opportunity to really connect with what's happening. And then, you know, we have a fun twist at the end that brings the story up and makes it fun and upbeat.”
The group also enlisted the help of people at the Art Students League to create illustrations for the book, which is also presented bilingually in Spanish.
Inside the Orchestra has provided bilingual programming for several years.
“It started from recognizing the need in the community that by serving really young children, we were often going into classrooms or performing in venues where kids were coming who were speaking exclusively Spanish at home,” Mattingly said. “And they weren't able to follow some of our programs because they hadn't learned English fully enough to be able to follow some of the programs we were doing.”
The Colorado actor cast as the storyteller for A Surprise for Rabbit, Iliana Lucero Barron, understands the significance of the bilingual program.
“I would say it's actually an honor. It's liberating, it's an honor to be that representation, to be the voice in the room that can bring English and Spanish and can access families if they predominantly speak Spanish or if they predominantly speak English,” Lucero Barron said. “So it's great. It's so much fun.”
Other collaborators also are pitching in. For years, Inside the Orchestra had tried to find a project to work on with award-winning composer Charles Denler. This seemed like a perfect opportunity, Mattingly said.
“We went to Charles and said, ‘Would you be interested in being in this truly collaborative process?’” Mattingly said. “And he said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”
Daniel Leavitt is one of Inside the Orchestra's Colorado musicians and the conductor for this premiere.
“It's the first time in the history of the orchestra, which is over 30 years, that we've done an original work like this,” Leavitt said. “And this is so cool because it has a book, there's dancers, there's actors, there's a narrative that's going on at the same time.”
Leavitt said this orchestra is used to doing crazy things while never forgetting the primary focus is to get children familiar with orchestral music.
Lucero Barron said the show is a great way to not just help children engage with the music, but other parts of the creative process as well.
“I mean, the kids get to see original art, they each get a story. And that's the beautiful thing about Tiny Tots is they are providing storybooks for all the families,” Lucero Barron said. “It's an interactive experience on every facet you get to see, you get to hear, and you get to engage with live actors. So it really is an all-around immersive experience. And what's great is it's not just for little ones. I think adults can really jump into it and really enjoy what we have to offer for this program.”
Hare, the program director, says the show in the end just really wants to celebrate and respect children and their abilities to learn and listen.
“There isn't anything that a child can't hang with,” Hare said. “It's really about how it's presented. So this piece, like all of the music that we do, is interesting and exciting and it's presented in a way that children will be able to engage with. You don't have to change the music to make it fun and acceptable and interesting for kids. You just have to present it to them in a way that makes sense for where they are in their lives. “
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