A Colorado orchestra dedicated to providing interactive programs for children presents its first entirely original work.
Founded in 1958, Inside the Orchestra began as a group that provided grants for music education programs. But in 1985, the organization turned to creating and programming with a professional orchestra. In fact, executive director Shelby Mattingly said the organization is the only professional orchestra in the world exclusively focused on children.
This work ranges from school programs to performances open to the public. During the pandemic, Inside the Orchestra has also bolstered its virtual and online programs. These online efforts continue to be an important aspect of the job.
Now this season, their Tiny Tots program debuts its first-ever original symphonic story, in the vein of Peter and the Wolf and Circus of the Animals. The Inside the Story event is called A Surprise for Rabbit.
The group worked with Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop to develop the story.
“We always want to showcase artists at what they do best. And we knew our part in it wasn’t, we’re not, book writers,” Mattingly said. “And so we went to the best organization in town for that, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and they brought in Denise Vega, who’s an award-winning children’s book author, and she wrote the story.”
Inside the Orchestra program director Sarah Hare said everyone can relate to the kind of search the rabbit goes through in the story.
“It feels really familiar and accessible to kids and gives them an opportunity to really connect with what’s going on. And then, you know, we have a fun twist at the end that brings the story up and makes it fun and upbeat.
The group also enlisted people from the Art Students League to create illustrations for the book, which is also presented in a bilingual version in Spanish.
Inside the Orchestra has offered bilingual programming for several years.
“It started with the recognition of the need in the community that in serving very young children, we would often go to classrooms or perform in venues where children came who spoke exclusively Spanish at home,” said Mattingly. “And they couldn’t take some of our programs because they hadn’t learned enough English to be able to take some of the programs we were doing.”
The Colorado actor played as storyteller for A Surprise for Rabbit, Iliana Lucero Barron, understands the importance of the bilingual program.
“I would say it’s actually an honor. It’s liberating, it’s an honor to be that representation, to be the voice in the room that can bring English and Spanish and can access families if they speak mostly Spanish or if they speak mostly English “said Lucero Barron. “So that’s great. It’s so much fun.”
Other collaborators also participate. For years, Inside the Orchestra tried to find a project to work on with award-winning composer Charles Denler. It seemed like a perfect opportunity, Mattingly said.
“We went to Charles and said, ‘Would you be interested in being part of this truly collaborative process?'” Mattingly said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.'”
Daniel Leavitt is one of the musicians of Inside the Orchestra Colorado and the conductor of this premiere.
“This is the first time in the orchestra’s 30-plus-year history that we’ve performed an original work like this,” Leavitt said. “And it’s so cool because there’s a book, there’s dancers, there’s actors, there’s a narrative going on all at once.”
Leavitt said this orchestra is used to doing crazy things without ever forgetting that the main goal is to introduce children to orchestral music.
Lucero Barron said the show is a great way to not only help children engage with music, but other parts of the creative process as well.
“I mean, kids get to see original artwork, they each have a story. And that’s the beautiful thing about Tiny Tots is that they provide storybooks for all families,” said Lucero Barron. “It’s an all-round interactive experience that you can see, hear and interact with live actors. So it really is a full immersive experience. And what’s great is that it’s not just for toddlers. I think adults can really jump in and really take advantage of what we have to offer for this program.
Hare, the program director, says the show at the end really wants to celebrate and respect children and their abilities to learn and listen.
“There’s nothing a kid can’t hang on to,” Hare said. “It’s really about how it’s presented. So this piece, like all the music we make, is interesting and exciting and it’s presented in a way that kids can interact with. You don’t have to change the music to make it fun, acceptable and interesting for kids. You just have to present it to them in a way that makes sense for where they are in their life. “
Tiny Tots: Inside the Story will perform at Parker Fieldhouse Wednesday, November 2 at 10:45 a.m. and at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver on Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.