Youth Concerts

wcfsymphony Youth Concerts inspire 4,000 4th-6th graders each April and serve schools from an 8-county radius. These free concerts at the Gallagher-Bluedorn feature the full orchestra in creative and interactive programs. The 2020 Youth Concerts will feature Scheherazade, the story of a storyteller in the middle east. Students learned about the orchestra, key musical concepts. Performances will take place on April 7th, 2020.

wcfsymphony Youth Concerts are made possible by generous grants from the R.J. McElroy Trust, Guernsey Charitable Foundation and Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa as well as the wcfsymphony Education Committee and Martha Kroese.

2020 Youth Concerts Materials For Teachers Outline And Topics

The 2020 wcfsymphony Youth Concerts explore Rimsky-Korsakov’s kaleidoscopic symphonic poem Scheherazade. A singular work in the orchestral repertoire, Scheherazade’s four musically interconnected movements colorfully portray the poetic variations of the Arabic folk tale collection One Thousand and One Nights.

We selected Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece for our Youth Concerts primarily because it is a perfect introduction to the orchestra and its sounds. Soloists from around the orchestra are featured in dazzling solos while the full ensemble frequently joins together in irresistible rhythm.

In addition to its purely musical merits Scheherazade is also a standard bearer for one of the prevalent musical tastes of its era, the tone poem. This 19th-century fascination with the techniques and possibilities of storytelling through sound drove a majority of orchestral composers to explore how musical form conveys character and narratives. Experiencing this connection between musical styles and storytelling gives students another avenue for understanding parallel concepts fundamental to both listening and reading.

wcfsymphony Artistic Director Jason Weinberger will bring his trademark verve and approachability to RImsky-Korsakov’s captivating orchestral style and musical storytelling. This year we are also thrilled to launch our new Local Soloist Program, which features a top-level high school student from the area (who probably attended these concerts just a few years ago!).

The Orchestra

The orchestra that students will see and hear in April is a product of the 19th century, when a variety of factors including industrial production of wind and brass instruments and an increasing formalization of the conductor’s role encouraged an explosion in the size and diversity of orchestral forces. In just a few decades prior to the career of Rimsky-Korsakov, the standard orchestra grew from a small number of strings with pairs of rudimentary winds and brass into a large ensemble with 30-plus player string sections balancing significantly larger wind and brass groups and an increasingly diverse percussion arsenal. The group for which Scheherazade was written at the end of the 19th century was essentially a modern orchestra, but Rimsky-Korsakov’s creative approach to instrumentation remains singular.

Classroom activities can include review of the orchestral instruments, their respective numbers in a modern orchestra, and their layout onstage. Jason’s school visits will offer students hands-on (and hands-up!) insight into the practical aspects of conducting a large symphonic ensemble.

The Narrative

In addition to offering students the opportunity to learn about the instruments and sounds of the modern symphony orchestra, the 2020 Youth Concerts also enhance and deepen their ongoing work in comprehension and storytelling. While most students’ understanding of the connection between music and narrative may be fairly topical, this performance will expose them to the ways in which directional and/or sequential art like music, prose and aural storytelling share a variety of characteristics and techniques.

Scheherazade presents an opportunity to follow sound narratively and learn about how it connects to characters, imagery and scenery. These are great questions for prompting students to think more deeply about musical substance and meaning, especially because narrative stimuli can serve as effective analogies for abstract musical ideas. Rimsky-Korsakov’s work is ideal for this purpose because its musical elements – tempo, instrumentation, and melodic and rhythmic invention – can be compared closely to the literary characters it portrays. If class formats allow, students could be encouraged to reverse the line of thinking and create their own written stories from the musical themes featured on this concert.

The Concerto

This year we are proud to introduce our Local Soloist Program, featuring an area high school student performing as soloist with the orchestra on the Youth Concerts. While the specific concerto to be performed is unavailable at this time due to the audition process and other factors, the concerto as a musical form is nonetheless worth reviewing with students. Among its connections to narrative: the typical baroque or classical concerto can be understood as a dialogue between two distinct character groups (the soloist and the orchestra) and during the 19th century concertos themselves became a kind of virtuoso theater. Furthermore, introducing the concerto to students as one of many musical forms offers a parallel to the diversity of narrative forms like prose, folk tales, and of course film.

The Music

The symphonic suite Scheherazade is one of the most popular works in the orchestral repertoire, little surprise given Rimsky-Korsakov’s wizard-like skill with the symphonic instruments and his unique ability to create intriguing colors in sound. It is the work’s narrative element, however, which is probably most responsible for its ongoing attraction to audiences. Scheherazade is based on One Thousand and One Nights, using episodes of fantastic storytelling by its namesake as a narrative frame. From the outset of the piece Rimsky-Korsakov personifies Scheherazade through instrumentation, using slowly unfurling arpeggios of seductive sound from the harp and solo violin to convey her presence. The actual narratives are filled with repetitive and cyclical musical elements which seem to convey Scheherazade’s poetic spinning of her narrative web.

Classroom activities should begin with a review of the Scheherazade story and background on Rimsky-Korsakov and his interest in stories from what was known during his lifetime as ‘the orient’. Students can be asked to explore how Rimsky-Korsakov’s creative deployment of instruments parallels the way writers describe decor and character, and how his choice of repetition and variation seems inspired by the regulated quality of stanzaic form in poetry.

Ironically, the composer himself eventually came to lament the connection between his piece and the story that inspired it, suggesting Scheherazade be heard without any titles or other references. A final question to pose to students might be: Is it even possible to disconnect One Thousand and One Nights from Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic musical story?