(March 15, 2019 Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — Children gasped and called out excitedly as the Santa Cruz Symphony played the first notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 at the Henry J. Mello Center on Tuesday morning.
The easily recognizable piece, written by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1804 and 1808, was played to show students how each section works together to form the first movement of the song.
Tuesday’s concert was part of the Santa Cruz Symphony’s annual Outreach Concert series. Two shows each on Monday and Tuesday brought thousands of students from the Pajaro Valley Unified School District to the Mello Center to learn about and participate in performing classical music.
“There is a lot of history here,” said Audrey Sirota, arts coordinator of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. “We’re so glad that this tradition has continued.”
But there is also a new aspect of the Outreach Concerts that has only been included for the past two years. Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program, The Orchestra Moves, was adopted by the Santa Cruz Symphony last year. Teachers participate in a training in the fall, and then have their students learn musical parts and eventually play with the symphony.
Master of Ceremonies of this week’s concerts was Omari Tau, who was recruited to work with the symphony after its Education and Development Director of Administration, Cordelia Neff, met him in Sacramento last fall.
“I saw how he worked with the kids, his enthusiasm,” Neff said. “I was like, ‘We have to bring him here.’”
Tau engaged students throughout the concert on Tuesday morning, explaining musical terminology and describing individual instruments’ role in the symphony. During Bizet’s “Toreador” from the opera “Carmen,” Tau broke out a brightly colored bullfighter’s cape and strutted around the stage in character.
“Omari is phenomenal,” Sirota said. “We are extremely lucky to be working with him.”
Sinota said that by integrating Link Up into the symphony’s education programs, more teachers have become involved.
“There were some teachers who were hesitant to take the training,” she said. “But then they came to the concerts and were inspired to try it next time. It’s had a really contagious effect.”
Neff said the Outreach Concerts, as well as the Family Concert which was held on Sunday afternoon, were major successes.
“At one of the shows we had almost the entire Mello Center full of kids playing their recorders,” Neff said. “People on stage said they could hear it even over their own instruments.”
Tuesday’s second show had the entire hall, from the front row to students in the balcony, standing up and dancing to the final piece: Filho’s “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
“It’s great we can give this to these kids,” Sinota said. “If they’re exposed to music like this early, they’re more likely to form an appreciation for it.”