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Classical Music For the Kids

Princeton Symphony Orchestra's Family Festival of Music and Art offers accessible sounds for kids and parents.

Parents looking to do something with the kids might go for the usual staples – a movie, a visit to the park, some playtime at Chuck E. Cheese – or perhaps try something different and take in a classical music concert.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra is offering its first-ever Family Festival of Music and Art on Oct. 1. The centerpiece of the program is an hour-long concert titled “American Adventures.”

In selecting pieces for the family program, PSO Executive Director Melanie Clarke says the orchestra looked for music that is accessible for orchestral music novices. The concert is tied to the Orchestra’s first regular concert of the season, titled “Visions of America,” to be performed Oct. 2. The two concerts will share some pieces, including Charles Ives Variations on “America.”

“It’s tremendous, and Charles Ives was this unique and interesting composer who did some pretty exotic and contemporary music,” Clarke says. She describes Ives’ variations as over-the-top and calls it an elaboration of the anthem “America.” (Which is also known as “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”)

The concert will also feature a hoedown from Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo,” – which Clarke says is similar to square dance music – and selections from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” The program will close with a John Philip Sousa march.

“This concert, first of all, will be a really fun activity, and the music will be really lively and engaging for both the adults and kids,” Clarke says. “But we’ll also use that opportunity to have a program that talks a little about the extensive work of the orchestra in terms of doing music education in the local schools.”

One of the goals of the concert is to promote awareness of the PSO’s BRAVO! program, which since 1995 has been bringing classical performances by the orchestra to elementary schools in the central New Jersey area. The BRAVO! program includes an annual concert that brings students to Richardson Auditorium for a PSO concert. “It’s real orchestra music, it’s not watered down in any way,” Clarke says of those concerts.

The family concert on Oct. 1 will feature a talk by PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov, who will discuss the musical selections with the audience.

“He’s a great speaker from the podium, he’s very joyful about everything he does and he especially loves to work with young audiences, and I think people will learn a little bit,” Clarke says. “If they don’t know about orchestra music, they’ll learn something but they’ll also just really enjoy the music, because all of it’s beautiful to listen to.”

The Princeton University Museum of Art will be open before and after the concert, offering families the chance to enjoy the museum’s collection, and for kids to participate in a scavenger hunt and to create their own art. The American theme ties the family concert to the PSO’s first regular concert of the season and to the collection of American art at the museum.

The concert is also designed to introduce new audiences to live classical music. Clarke recognizes that some people might be intimidated by a concert hall experience, so the PSO wants to encourage people to hear the music at Richardson (which she calls one of the treasures of Princeton), and to visit the art museum.

“If you live in this area, take advantage of these tremendous offerings that we have,” Clarke says. “I think being in a great concert hall is a great experience as well as listening to the music that’s going to happen in there.”

And you just might be surprised at how much kids enjoy the music. Clarke says she’s seen children become engrossed in BRAVO! concerts and at free programs at the Princeton Public Library.

She believes that music is more than entertainment and that exposure to music and art is important for children.

“To be complete human beings and completely well educated and completely well rounded we need to open ourselves up to all of these things,” Clarke says. “I think it’s important that young people, children, are introduced to the habit of going to live performance because that is what will provide them those kind of nurturing, musical emotional situations as they go on in life.”

Princeton Symphony Orchestra will perform “American Adventures,” at Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University on Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m. Princeton University Art Museum will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Admission to the concert is $10. For tickets and information, call 609-497-0020 or go to www.princetonsymphony.org.

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