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Involve yourself in music with The Cleveland Orchestra

Four straight days of children’s concerts would be enough to exhaust most adults.  But they leave Joan Katz Napoli, The Cleveland Orchestra’s Director of Education and Community Programs, feeling elated and energized.

“These events are always a shot in the arm,” she said after this season’s opening week of Education Concerts for grade-school children.  “It’s really, really fun to watch 8,000 bright, shiny faces walk through the front doors of Severance Hall for the first time.  It’s a privilege to be able to provide an experience that young people remember for the rest of their lives!”

What Katz Napoli and her department do is coordinate a comprehensive series of programs designed to expose young children to classical music, build their knowledge and interest as they progress through grade school, high school, and college, and then keep them engaged with the Orchestra through adulthood.  It’s a cradle-to-grave approach that does much more than build future audiences.

“In this day and age, orchestras need to be relevant and valuable to the communities in which they operate,” Katz Napoli says.  “To us, there’s no better way to serve the community than through education and the community engagement that we do.”

Long before educational programming became de rigueur for American orchestras, it was in place as part of the foundation of The Cleveland Orchestra thanks to Adella Prentiss Hughes, founder of the Musical Arts Association and the prime mover in the creation of the Orchestra.  She and Lillian Baldwin, supervisor of music appreciation for the Cleveland Schools and the Orchestra’s first education director (a position funded jointly by the Orchestra and the Cleveland school district), launched a series of children’s concerts that brought thousands of youngsters to Severance Hall.  Baldwin also developed study materials for students that were eventually collected in a two-volume work titled A Listener’s Anthology of Music.

“Adella Prentiss Hughes believed that the best way to nurture, cultivate, and grow an audience was to provide music education to students,” Katz Napoli says.  “Lillian Baldwin felt it wasn’t enough to have children just come and see the orchestra – she felt we could do more.  That was the genesis of curriculum materials (Teacher Guide, Student Guide, and now CDs and web content) designed to contextualize and extend the experience both before and after the concerts.”

Today the music education continuum starts with PNC Grow up Great, a preschool program that uses music to help children develop basic skills like counting, learning the letters of the alphabet, following instructions – all necessary for success in kindergarten and beyond The Orchestra provides training for teachers to incorporate music into their classroom curriculum as well as classroom materials like a CD with music tracks that can be used to pace the day.

“For example, the teacher can put on track six, which is Brahms’s 'Lullaby,' and that’s an aural cue for the kids that it’s nap time,” Katz Napoli says.  “There are tunes for recess and other transition points, which is a great way to get kids’ attention.  It’s a very effective tool that helps with classroom management, develops good listening skills, and kids can’t help but become familiar with these pieces of classical music.”

PNC Bank has provided more than $5 million in grants for local preschool education, including $2.5 million to support programs developed by The Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  According to PNC Regional President Paul Clark, the results have been more than gratifying.

“We have been so impressed with the positive results these programs have delivered for teachers, parents, and students,” he says.  “Teachers have reported that they are more confident and creative in their ability to teach the arts, parents have become more likely to spend time engaging with their children and arts, and students who participate are receiving higher scores in music and imaginative play – with a positive impact on their cognitive, social, and academic development.”

PNC also sponsors the next step in the Orchestra’s education process, the Musical Rainbows concerts.  These are presentations for pre-K to Grade 1 students in Reinberger Chamber Hall that introduce them to specific instruments and families of instruments.  With an assist from host Maryann Nagel, Cleveland Orchestra musicians bring their instruments, talk about them, and play short selections.

“We mix serious pieces with age-appropriate music like 'Old McDonald' or the 'Bingo' song,” says Katz Napoli.  “There’s a lot of singing and clapping and interaction.  The point of the series is to introduce kids to all orchestral instruments over time, so when they reach the ripe old age of 6 or 7, they’re ready to come upstairs to the big hall for Education and Family Concerts.”

“The Orchestra’s PNC Musical Rainbows program is a great way for parents and students to engage in the arts together, listening, learning, singing, and dancing with Cleveland Orchestra musicians,” adds Clark.

Education Concerts are targeted at specific elementary grades (1-5, 4-8) and built around themes that will accommodate multimedia programming.  This year’s series opened with “Orchestral Explorers,” conducted by William Eddins.  It highlighted individual instruments and sections of the orchestra, and gave students a chance to play mix and match by selecting alternative instruments to open Ravel’s Bolero.  “That was a winning combination of a standard piece of orchestral music combined with the excitement and surprise of what instrument would be picked next,” says Katz Napoli.

Coming up later this season:  “Fairy Tales in Music,” with selections that include Prokofiev’s Cinderella and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, conducted by Kelly Corcoran.

This year’s Family Concerts opened with “Tchaikovsky Discovers America,” which featured two actors recreating scenes from the composer’s life between excerpts from his music.  Scheduled for the spring:  “The Mozart Experience,” with the Magic Circle Mime Company leading a tour through the composer’s life and most famous works, and “The Composer is Dead,” based on the book by Lemony Snicket with music by Nathaniel Stookey.

While the programming for Education and Family Concerts is inventive and accessible, it does not pander. Katz Napoli and her staff meet with the conductors 9 to 12 months in advance of the performances to decide on the themes, selections, and supplemental activities.  Students get to see the real Cleveland Orchestra, not understudies or substitutes, and the music is drawn from its regular repertoire.

“We don’t think of these as kiddie concerts,” says Katz Napoli.  “We try to infuse them with the artistic excellence that The Cleveland Orchestra is known for, and use them to introduce students to the great joy and wonder of classical music.”

That’s not left to chance.  As soon as the schedule is set, Katz Napoli and her staff go to work developing curriculum materials designed to help teachers start the introduction process in the classroom:  CDs previewing the music, teachers’ guides explaining it, and for instructors who want to go deeper, workshops at Severance Hall where they can learn activities to promote active listening.  For the students, there’s a newspaper called The Score that mixes feature stories with music lessons and student feedback.

“It’s a continuum of activities and materials designed so that kids can come to Severance Hall knowing a great deal about both the Orchestra and the music,” Katz Napoli says.  “Even if you’re a teacher who has zero time, you can put on a CD so that your students become familiar with what they’re going to hear.”

The Orchestra also runs a full program of engagement activities for schools and teachers called Learning Through Music. It includes teacher training as well as curriculum materials to help teach not just music, but other disciplines like math and science by using music. For partner schools, Cleveland Orchestra musicians will visit classrooms to demonstrate their instruments and teach basic skills.

For budding musicians who dream of performing on the Severance Hall stage themselves one day, the Orchestra offers several opportunities.  Young singers can start with the Preparatory Chorus and move on to the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus for grades 5-8, which performs regularly with the adult Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.  Committed high school singers can try out for the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus.  And talented instrumental musicians in grades 7 through 12 can audition for the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, whose members receive coaching from Cleveland Orchestra musicians and give three Severance Hall concerts a year, in addition to concerts in neighboring cities.  All the youth ensembles also perform in local institutions like hospitals and nursing homes.

For students who enjoy sitting in the audience, there are high school and college membership programs that offer concert tickets at greatly reduced prices.  College students lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Orchestra’s Student Ambassadors attend concerts for free, as does anyone under 18 attending selected subscription concerts, as well as Youth Orchestra concerts and programs for families, with a paying adult.

And for adults who want to continue their musical education, the Orchestra sponsors Music Study Groups at area libraries and community centers.  Led by musicologist Rose Breckenridge, these offer in-depth previews of the works performed at the Orchestra’s subscription concerts.  And anyone can come to Severance Hall an hour in advance of most subscription concerts to hear a presentation about that day’s program.

With so much going on, it’s hard to quantify exactly how many people benefit from Cleveland Orchestra education and community programs.  “We do know that we serve more than 60,000 students annually with our education programs, both inside and outside of Severance Hall,” Katz Napoli says.  “And that doesn’t include activities like our Public Square concert, or the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert, or our neighborhood residency.”

Underlying all those programs is what Katz Napoli calls an “overwhelming commitment” that comprises a key element in the Orchestra’s larger goals.

“We carry the name of The Cleveland Orchestra all over the world, which is an important part of our mission,” Katz Napoli says.  “But the most important work is what we do here at home.  This is the community where we live and work.  And this is the community that supports us.”

by Frank Kuznik

Frank Kuznik is a longtime journalist and culture writer covering Northeast Ohio's vibrant arts and entertainment scene.  Born and raised in Cleveland, Frank has worked extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, most recently in Prague as the editor-in-chief and culture editor of The Prague Post.  He also writes about music on