Fun and Fantasy for LA's Families

The LA Phil's Toyota Symphonies for Youth make the experience of symphonic music come alive

By Julie Fernandez
Published on LatinoLA: December 8, 2012

Fun and Fantasy for LA's Families

It's barely December, and I already needed a break from incessant Christmas music, busy stores, week-long Black Friday sales, and Cyber Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, etc. Not that I don't enjoy and appreciate these aspects of the season, but I realize that simplicity can be refreshing. And, believe it or not, your kids are craving it, too.

I never take for granted that I live in LA, because no other city offers such diverse entertainment and experiences within a 45-minute radius (here, where distance is always measured in time).

I had the privilege of attending another concert of the Toyota Symphonies for youth by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. These series of concerts are held on Saturday mornings.

In LA, December cloudy is always beautiful, namely because it's never anywhere near east-coast cold, but also because you get the best pictures without any shadow. What better backdrop than the striking exterior of the concert hall's architecture. Another rare treat--navigating through downtown LA without the Monday-though-Friday traffic. There isn't a sense of rush, and it's actually quite peaceful near the concert hall.

As it was my second visit, I anticipated the energy of the various workshops and activities for the hundreds of kids aged 5 through 11 (and their parents, grandmas, cousins, friends) located all around the hall. There was even a school field trip for underprivileged students to have the opportunity to attend this event.

One would expect chaos to ensue, but it was surprisingly and enjoyably very organized. Staff were incredibly helpful, friendly, and positive.

In the hour before the concert began, families enjoyed a mix of art, dance, and musical workshops. I was struck by the diversity of the families in every aspect -- age, ethnicity, family structure -- all involved in a common activity.

This morning's concert piece was Igor Stravinsky's first ballet score, The Firebird, and I'll admit I've never heard of it before, much less knew who Stravinsky was. Most of me was learning along with its young audience.

Though I enjoyed my elementary school years, as a kid I tended towards the idea that learning was learning and fun was fun, and never the twain shall meet.

I saw children making ornaments of firebirds, using grounded hula hoops and brightly-colored tulle to channel the firebird dance, discovering new instruments and synchronizing their rhythms. True learning involves fun, and it's most fun when mom, dad, or grandpa are having fun, too. The symphony was the culmination of the learning piece, and I'm always delighted to see children learning and never becoming aware of the fact that they are.

There's something about live classical music that doesn't discriminate by age, race, or background in its ability to evoke emotion and engage its audience in a story. The LA Phil has such a creative and yet simple way of achieving these. Acting and dance are incorporated into the performance, but simplified with two dancers, one actor, and a narrow stage in front of the orchestra. It never takes away from the music, and they engage the audience, never taking themselves too seriously.

Lighting and color help to capture the story, how the composer imagines the music will set the tone and feeling of the dance on stage and how he alters the music until it depicts the exact scene he wants. There really aren't any special effects, and that's precisely the point. The highest quality of entertainment needs only organic, "un-processed" elements- live instruments, fluid movements, and basic props.

Imagine watching your favorite drama without the music, the original score or theme song. (Mine is Cinema Paradiso, and I bawled when the love theme cued at the final scene). Without the music, it's quite dull. Actors or performers will tell you that their job is less than glamorous because the actual work is either boring or tiresome, just acting out the scene in its raw form. It's when the music is added that the story comes to life.

With the dance of ballet, the changing colors to reflect intensity and calm, a simple change of props, a certain synergy transpires. In the end is the final arrangement, after we've experienced it altered so many ways until Stravinsky is satisfied with it. For some in the audience, this was an exciting performance to enjoyed on a relaxed Saturday morning. But I imagine for even a few, it's a start of a future career in music.

As an adult, I'm able to create my own opportunities, but the child me would have had a blast whether on a field trip or with Mom. I would encourage parents to seize opportunities to expose your children to new experiences such as the symphonies for children by the LA Phil.

For more info on the LAPhil and other concerts please visit www.laphil.com. More information on Toyota Symphonies for Youth here.

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