Getting kids into music

Inside the Orchestra offers opportunities for children to be involved, ask questions


Don’t be surprised when children driven by the lively music at an Inside the Story performance form a conga line and show the adults how it’s done.

“We have had very lively kids jump up on the stage with the teaching artists,” said Shelby Mattingly, executive director of Inside the Orchestra.

Inside the Orchestra is a nonprofit organization that brings orchestra music to children in the Denver area to cultivate music appreciation and strengthen their education. Inside the Story performances fall under the nonprofit’s umbrella.

Performances can combine music, dancing, acting and live storytelling, and the organization calls the show “immersive” because of its unique setup. The orchestra surrounds the children and other attendees, and the conductor faces the audience. The hope is that the kids will be so inspired by the music and the performers that they’ll develop musical interests of their own.

It seems to be working. The kids examine the instruments up close after the performance and ask questions of the musicians and other artists as their curiosity takes over.

The organization recently renewed its fall Tiny Tots in-person series — designed for children 7 and younger and their families — after a three-year hiatus. It began with two 45-minute performances of “A Surprise for Rabbit” on Oct. 22.

Each child at the performance was given a bilingual — English and Spanish — copy of “A Surprise for Rabbit,” which is a storybook written by Denise Vega.

Inside the Orchestra lined up a lot of talent to help with the show. The Lighthouse Writers Workshop and the Art Students League of Denver were partners for the program. Illustrations were provided by Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand and Leah Stephenson. Charles Denler, an Emmy Award-winning composer, created the orchestral score. The Hannah Kahn Dance Company choreographed the dancers. Local character actor Brian Kusic played the character of the rabbit. Storyteller Iliana Lucero Barron from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts was also involved.

“The cool thing about Inside the Story programs is it’s part of an original work we did with other organizations,” Mattingly said. “So the concerts will be focused on reading this storybook while the musicians play an original symphony written for the book.”

Also planned are holiday concerts set for Dec. 10, 17 and 18, with two performances of Christmas music each day. Teaching artists will narrate the programs thanks to a partnership with DCPA. Circus Foundry will supply break dancers during a song from “The Nutcracker.”

Inside the Orchestra was founded in 1958 and raised grant money for music education programs. The organization’s leaders later saw a need for more active versions for children, leading to its first season in 1985. Today, the organization presents programming all over the Denver area for in-person events and also offers online programming.

Cassandra Tompkin has brought her 2-year-old daughter Emery to several performances and looks forward to when her 1-year-old son Gavin can join them at these events.

“The four that we’ve taken her (Emery) to, she’s really had fun at every one,” Tompkin said. “We stayed after and have been some of the last people to leave because she’s standing there and watching the clarinet, oboe and harp.”

Tompkin said she would love for her daughter to play an instrument someday.

“If she’s not interested, that’s fine — I won’t push her. But I do want her to have an appreciation for music, for her to understand music outside of current popular music,” Tompkin said. “Overall, I really love Inside the Orchestra, and they do a lot more with schools and community groups beyond what I have experienced.”

Inside the Orchestra, nonprofit, music, children


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