German scientists have left their mark on Huntsville in more ways than you might think. In addition to rocket propulsion and space flight, the team that arrived in Huntsville in 1950 with Wernher von Braun also left the legacy of music and culture. So many of the newly-immigrated team were also amateur musicians, and they laid the foundation for what we know now as the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.
You might not know it, but the HSO is widely considered to be among the finest professional orchestras in the southeastern United States. Through its education activities, it touches many lives beyond the Concert Hall. A very unique program they offer is the completely free and preschooler-friendly Opus Tadpole series, and I went with my daughter to try it out a few weeks ago.
What Is it?
Children (and their parents and grandparents) have fun discovering the answers to these musical questions and more during twenty-minute Opus Tadpole presentations, entertaining and interactive ways for our youngest listeners to learn about the instruments of the orchestra. Grown-ups will also learn a thing or two! Each month a different instrument is featured. In February attendees can explore the violin, in March the oboe and in April the cello. The Little Gym of South Huntsville was also in attendance to (attempt) to shake the sillies out before the big show.
When we attended, January’s session was all about the bassoon. Hunter Thomas, HSO’s Principal Bassoonist was an engaging performer, who was able to communicate with young children quite well. He built the instrument piece by piece, making sounds with it every step of the way. He demonstrated high and low notes, encouraging the children to stretch up high or crouch way down low to match the sounds. He also explained that music is a communicator that makes us feel, and played short selections followed by questions about how each piece made the children feel: happy, sad, or grumpy. A precocious boy shouted out a request for “silly” and Hunter obliged with a selection called “The Duck,” which featured the bassoon “quacking” at the end. Not to be outdone, the boy shouted out: “frustrated!” Hunter took it all in stride. A brief Q&A session revealed that Hunter has been playing since 8th grade, has to hold his breath for a long time to play well, and can play very well both loudly and softly. Much to the delight of some of the older boys in attendance that remarked that the bassoon looked like a bazooka, Hunter played along and make horrendous loud noises and then aimed it like a bazooka!
When Is It?
Opus Tadpole sessions are held on Saturdays at 10:15 AM prior to the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Series final rehearsals. Afterward, you have the option to stay for that night’s Sneak Preview Performance at 11:00 AM. It’s a great way to introduce your little one to the orchestra without worrying if they’ll bother other listeners too much.
Upcoming Opus Tadpole Dates:
February 1, 2014 – Violin
March 15, 2014 – Oboe
April 5, 2014 – Cello
Where Is It & What Does It Cost?
At the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall of the VBC. Volunteers direct you to the room, where chairs are set up for adults and children can sit on the floor in the front of the room to be closer to the presentation. Opus Tadpole sessions are free and open to all families, and the presentation is usually targeted to ages 4-9. If you choose to go to the Sneak Preview afterward, those are: Single: $5, Season Pass: $20, Family Season Pass: $50, Children 5 and Under: FREE.
My daughter and I liked the stretching up and bending down, and the dancing at the end with the happy music: physicality is a big part of how children at a young age learn. My child enjoyed the music, and asked me a lot of questions in the car afterwards, which meant she was really engaged and curious. She said she liked the sad song the best and asked how the man played the bassoon. So for about twenty minutes, my four year old and I talked about music, practicing and learning to play an instrument and songs we like that make us happy. I consider it a win in that respect, and best of all, it was free. On nice days, it’d be wonderful to make a day of the downtown area and play in the park, check out the art museum or do a cool free program at the library. I’ll take my child back for future sessions, and I think it’s a really nice thing HSO does for the community.
PRO TIP: The Opus Tadpole sessions can get crowded quickly, so get there early for the best seat. When we were there the place was packed, and twice more chairs had to be brought out, weaving a cart through children scattered on the floor. As it was, some parents were standing in the back and out in the halls.
Mandy Pinyan has been a passionate book lover from an early age, where being busted for bringing Stephen King to school (a book, not the guy) led to much reading by flashlight. She turned out okay. She is the Youth Services Coordinator and Manager of Outreach Services at the Huntsville Madison County Public Library Extension and Outreach Department, where she can be seen driving a Rainbow Van or a Bookmobile in between gigs. Mom to a tween, Adelyn and wife to a ruggedly handsome outdoorsman with an obsession with planting bamboo, Mandy finds enjoyment in painting, gardening and geeking out over various pop culture. A small menagerie of pets - dachshunds Matt Damon and Angel, kitty BB and Boston-Chihuahua-chupacabra mix Bailey just make the chaos complete.