What is an orchestra? If you’ve never experienced it before imagine an explosion with debris blasting out from the centre. That is an orchestra apart from instead of an explosion you have a conductor and instead of debris you have instruments. That’s what it looks like from a birds eye view, what it sounds like is even more of a magnificent spectacle, with over 25 different instruments, up to 100 performers and 4 different sections, the orchestra is a universe unto itself.
Where does it come from? The term orchestra derives from the Greek ὀρχήστρα the name for the area in front of a stage reserved for the Greek chorus; it means ‘to dance.’ And while you don’t tend to get much dancing in the orchestra if you watch the instruments they certainly look like they seem to be.
Recent studies show that there has been a decline in the popularity of classical music, although, it also discovered that this is due to the lack of exposure to the music at an early age. Indeed Thomas Südhof, Nobel Laureate, discusses how the natural curiosity of a child’s mind can be more open to new sounds but warns, ‘this innate curiosity and understanding can vanish…children’s aesthetic tastes form before the age of nine.’ This is why it is so vital to have concerts aimed at the younger generations.
The other reason that people may be deterred from coming to a classical concert is the concern that they may not understand the meaning behind the music. However, the conductor Leonard Bernstein in his Young People’s Concert series, What Does Music Mean? dispels this worry claiming, ‘If you like music at all, you'll find out the meanings for yourselves, just by listening to it.’ He also questioned his young audience on whether it was important that music had a story or created an image, summarising that ‘it’s the way it makes you feel when you hear it,’ if it ‘makes us change inside - that’s all there is to it.’ It’s the feeling that over 100 instruments all playing at the same time can give you a powerful surge of emotion straight to the heart.
Another enthusiast of introducing young people to classical music is Daniel Handler or as you might know him better, Lemony Snicket, and his work The Composer Is Dead. He discusses the reason behind the project claiming it; ‘introduces the orchestra to people who may not otherwise be familiar with it,’ he also likes to think of it as a ‘gateway drug that will lead to a life-long addiction to classical music.’ And although this may be a bit of an extreme take on the subject you’ll never know unless you try.
Benjamin Britten, known for his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra stated, ‘it is futile to offer children music by which they are bored, or which makes them feel inadequate or frustrated, which may set them against music forever.’ This will definitely not be happening in our family concerts with favourites such as Harry's World from Harry Potter and the Habanera from Carmen (you’ll recognise it even if you don’t know it by name.)
Ignite this curiosity in your own children and yourself and bring everyone along to our upcoming family concerts and discover what all the fuss is about. Don’t worry about the meaning; let the emotion sweep you away.