SPCO hosts Spirited Strings event for families

A young listener applauds at a family concert by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.SPCO

March 12, 2019

If you're a parent on the lookout for a new (and free) opportunity, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra offers a unique event called Spirited Strings to introduce kids to classical music.

It's part of the SPCO's Start the Music! initiative from its Target Free Family Music programming.

"Start the Music! is a program that is centered around the families of instruments in an orchestra and a children's book or story" says Erin Jude, director of education and community engagement for the SPCO. "Children and families come in and can spend up to 45 minutes doing crafts, games and activities that correspond to the two themes of the day. Then, they head into a 30-minute concert that is led by a host and performed by a trio, quartet or quintet of SPCO musicians."

Lorena Duarte
Lorena Duarte
Elizabeth Baier/MPR

On Saturday, the performers are doing something especially cool with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The violin, viola and cello will take on the roles of Baby Bear, Mama Bear and Papa Bear as host Lorena Duarte tells the story of Ravenlocks and the Three Bears, a riff on the classic children's tale.

While this version is new, Duarte and SPCO have taken great care to keep it familiar, Jude says. Children will have the opportunity to "see how three instruments that look very similar can produce a very different range of high, medium and low sounds," she adds.

In asking Duarte to host and rewrite the story, the SPCO gave her free reign.

"It was really fun—thinking of how to update the classic," Duarte says.

"When you look at it objectively, it's a goofy story. Goldilocks goes in without permission, eats the bears' things, breaks their stuff, and then runs off at the end. So I asked myself, what happened after that? That's how I hit upon centering the story on Goldilock's sister, Ravenlocks.

"She meets the bears (as they're coming to their house to talk to the parents of the little girl who messed up their house) and after some mutual trepidation ends up going on a great adventure with them. It keeps a lot of the elements of the Goldilocks story (things being too big, too little, just right) and works well with the music and musical instruments (violin, viola and cello)."

Start the Music! debuted in 2004.

"It was the brainchild of my predecessor at the SPCO, Kate Cooper, and early-childhood music education specialist Joanna Cortright," Jude says. While the SPCO had family concerts previously, "it was thought that creating a steppingstone set of programs would provide more options for families and create even more accessible and more age-specific environments, thus increasing the chance that attendees would have a positive concert experience."

The SPCO has three distinct programs under the umbrella title of Target Free Family Music. Start the Music! is geared toward kids 3 to 6, xplorchestra! is for kids 5 to 9, and Family Concerts are aimed at kids 6 to 12. But all ages are welcome.

"This approach to programming is essential for kids and creates a safe space for their introduction to classical music," Jude says.

Spirited Strings is like "Classical Music 101," Duarte says.

"The kids first get a chance to engage with elements of the story and create crafts," she says. "Then, before the performance, the musicians and I will set up some context for them. The musicians will talk about their instruments, talk about what sounds make you feel happy, sad, excited, etc. We'll all talk about how music can tell a story, even without words. Kids and families will have a ton of fun, and hopefully come away with a lot less intimidation about the classical music."

Jude echoes that sentiment: "Everyone is welcome here, and aisle-dancing is encouraged!"

Families can get on the wait list for this weekend. But the SPCO has many other performances of Spirited Strings and Target Free Family Music events.