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Today's Family Magazine

Cleveland Orchestra attracting young audiences with educational programs

Aug 21, 2016 04:12PM ● By Today's Family

Cleveland Orchestra cellist David Alan Harrell along with a young protege at a Musical Rainbow concert. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

By Kim McCloskey

It is ninety-eight years in the making.  It’s one of the first American orchestras heard on a radio broadcast.  It is considered one of America’s “Big Five”, in league only with New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston.  It is recognized as one of the premier orchestras in the world.

But the best thing about the Cleveland Orchestra may just be its commitment to families and young audiences.

Housed in historic Severance Hall in downtown Cleveland, the organization made national and international headlines in 2010 with the introduction of its Center for Future Audiences, designed to fund and develop interest in classical music among young people.  According to Joan Katz Napoli, director of education and community programs, this comes on the coat tails of ninety plus years of education-focused programming.

“The first Cleveland Orchestra Education Concerts for Schools date back to the Orchestra’s founding,” says Katz Napoli.  “The goal then (and now) was to introduce students to classical music and its relationship to the world around them by exploring the artistic, historical, cultural and social context of music; and to nurture and ‘grow’ an audience for the orchestra.”

To do this, the Cleveland Orchestra offers a variety of programs and events.  Family concerts provide both children and parents the opportunity to hear live, orchestral music. Fun, interactive presentations during PNC’s Musical Rainbow introduce children ages 3-6 to instruments, what they sound like and how they are played.  Education concerts bring almost 20,000 students annually to Severance Hall, teaching them the importance of music in a way they will never forget.

“Given the lack of music and the arts in so many schools due to budget cutbacks, our field trip program is more important than ever before,” says Katz Napoli.  “For many children today, school field trips are the first (and often only) opportunity to see and hear live orchestral music by one of the world’s top orchestras.”

Betty Wallis, third-grade teacher at Willo-Hill Christian School in Willoughby, has taken several classes to the Cleveland Orchestra educational concerts, and has used the experience in classroom teaching as well.

“It’s incredibly beneficial to expose students to the whole ambiance of the Orchestra,” says Wallis.  “The architecture of Severance Hall, the sound of a live orchestra, it provides a cultural experience that most of us – adults and children – don’t often see.”

Why does the organization put so much emphasis on families and young audiences?  According to Katz Napoli, music is critical to a child’s growth.

“There is a large body of research now that documents the connection between music and learning, including the increased number of neural pathways that are physically created in the brain when children are actively engaged in music.  Students who participate in the arts outperform those who do not on virtually every measure.”

In addition to concerts and events, the orchestra also offers training for teachers and parents, providing the tools they need to integrate music into classroom or home environments.

“Our PNC Grow Up Great program in Cleveland preschools empowers pre-K teachers through regular training sessions and high-quality resources to use music in their classrooms,” explains Katz Napoli. “ We also have workbooks and coloring books for families with young children and of course CDs and books in our Cleveland Orchestra Store.”

Upcoming events include the Halloween Spooktacular: Superman at the Symphony, Oct. 30 as well as Musical Rainbow concerts “The Fantastic Flute” October 28-29, and “The Velvet Violin,” November 18 and 19.  All concerts are free for children under the age of 18.

For more information on upcoming concerts and family events, visit