Arts & Events

Humor and Education in Berkeley Symphony’s Family Concerts

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:33:00 PM

Adventure in Music, the second installment in Berkeley Symphony’s new family concert series, led by conductor Ming Luke and featuring San Francisco Opera violinist Dawn Harms, will include “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Violin Concerto in D Major”; Leopold Mozart’s “Toy Symphony”—and the theme (by Danny Elfman) from The Simpsons TV series.  

Saturday’s concert is billed as “a humorous and educational journey through music written 300 years ago and music written today.” It is part of the interactive program of Music in the Schools, in which children have an opportunity to play along with the orchestra and compose music with Dawn Harms performing. 

“This follows our I’m a Performer series, which are in-school concerts,” explained Ming Luke, director and conductor of the symphony’s Music in the Schools Program. “All year, students in the different schools have been learning about instruments—what a stringed instrument is, as compared to woodwinds or brass—and to make instruments: rubber band guitars, shakers and straw oboes (which are called for in the “Toy Symphony”), wind instruments using garden hoses for mouthpieces and funnels.... We talk about the physics of music, different sounds from different instruments; the fourth-graders are learning about sound waves. It fits right in. And every class has learned a song to sing or to perform on instruments with the Symphony as their back-up band. 

“We’ve been really excited about this season,” Luke continued, “because we’ve been able to visit all 11 schools, not just four, as we’ve had to the past few seasons. We’ve been able to tailor the curricula, collaborate directly with the teachers to find out what the kids like—what would be more effective, more memorable—and what would be better for each school, age level, different classes. And some musicians can put forward what they’d like to talk about with the kids. The visits are interactive, and now it is throughout planning as well.” 

Luke described the fun of the Family Concert: “Dawn Harms is really hilarious, besides being a fine violinist. She dresses up in costumes—as a big chicken for a violin showcase number that features the instrument tweeting like a bird. And she has a sort of “he-she” outfit—I think she calls her character Billy Bob Sue—a fiddler she dresses up as to play. She makes me improvise with her. And students write notes on a staff up on a board and she makes a melody out of it. She talks about listening to the brook around you when we play Vivaldi, about the musical sounds of thunder and lightning. And she gets kids to play ‘Pop Goes theWeasel’ with her, kids who’ve never in their life played violin.” 

All ages participate, too, in the Family Concert. “We pass toy instruments through the audience for the Leopold Mozart piece; I conduct and invite everybody to perform.” 



9:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., Saturday, March 14 at Malcolm X Elementary School Auditorium, 1731 Prince St. $10 for adults; $5 for 18 and under 841-2800.