Inside the Orchestra of Denver makes music just for kids

Considering that the average classical music fan is over 55, it’s no surprise that very little orchestral music is written for children. Inside the Orchestra of Denver, the only professional orchestra in the world to offer exclusively children’s programming, is helping to change that with A surprise for the rabbit, the first original score of the association’s 37 seasons. “We really felt like we were the best organization to start commissioning and creating new symphonic stories for today’s audiences,” says executive director Shelby Mattingly. Debuting this month on a local tour, the performance includes more than melodies to grab your mini-maestro’s attention.

An open book

Inside the Orchestra started the process by asking local author Denise Vega and local artists Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand and Leah Stephenson (a teenage illustrator) to create a children’s book on which the score would be based. Vega interviewed a focus group of fifth graders at a summer camp at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she works, to solicit ideas. The resulting story—in which Rabbit cannot find her friends, only to find that they had been planning a surprise party for her all along—was simplified so as not to confuse the association’s young audience.

behind the music

Emmy Award-winning composer Charles David Denler needed to balance the book’s light and dark elements. “It’s a rabbit walking through a garden, not a grizzly bear,” he says. “[But] there is a solemn aspect to this story in which Rabbit does not find his friends. To achieve this balance, Denler uses bright piano and flute sounds, but places them in a minor key, suggesting melancholy. To help engage modern kids with modern attention spans, it has also added lots of interactive elements. When Rabbit encounters a whistling gnome, for example, Denler asks the audience to join the orchestra in whistling the melody.

dance revolution

Inside the Orchestra puts children at the center of all its performances, and it’s not a figure of speech: its musicians surround the audience so that young listeners feel immersed in the music. The association went even further in A surprise for rabbit enlisting dancers from the Hannah Kahn Dance Company, a storyteller from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and an actor to lead the action just steps away from the munchkins.

If you are going to

A surprise for rabbitIn the Orchestra

Program: October 22 at the Denver Art Museum; October 23 at the Lily Gulch Recreation Center in Littleton; Nov. 2 at Parker Fieldhouse in Parker; November 14 at the Boettcher Concert Hall; two performances a day, at 9.30 a.m. and 10.45 a.m.

Tickets: $12.50; babies under 12 months enter free; children seven and under receive a free copy of the book, A surprise for the rabbit

This article was originally published on 5280 October 2022.

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