This past Saturday, my wife and I — along with our three children (ages 7, 5, and 2) — had the privilege of attending the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's family concert "For the Love of Nature."
Conducted by the talented Hans Graff, the SPCO performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral). For this performance the orchestra shared the staged with two puppeteers, Victor Yerrid and Jess McKay, who added an enjoyable storyline to the delightful performance of the orchestra. It was a show that was specifically designed for children, but gave space for all of us to be exposed to the talented musicians while we were mesmerized by their music — at the same time busting with laughter watching the puppets tell their story.
Leopold, the main character, began the show by singing the now-famous "Let It Go" from the Disney hit Frozen. Meanwhile, the orchestra began to play. He was "oblivious" to the music because he had headphones on, jamming to "Let it Go" without realizing what was going on.
Finally, one the members of the orchestra had to leave her seat and have a conversation with Leopold. The violinist explained to Leopold how he was interrupting the show, and invited him to listen to the wonderful music, rather than adding his own. The light-hearted back and forth between the orchestra and Leopold drew all the audience members in as the show continued.
After the completion of the first movement, the audience was introduced to the second puppet of the show — a talking tree. The talking tree became for both Leopold and the audience the narrator of an entertaining story of a chipmunk and his adventures through scenes of nature, connected to Beethoven's music.
One of the benefits of living in St. Paul is the access to the arts and experiences like hearing the SPCO. How wonderful it was to be able to share that experience with my three children as well. The children seemed to enjoy every aspect of the show, including being in the beautiful Ordway and seeing the large stage where the puppeteers would be as well as all the musicians.
As the musicians came onto stage, I got to experience my kids' joy as they said, "Dad, there's a cello!" or, "Dad, I see a trombone!" The joy continued as each new instrument was carried onstage and elevated as the orchestra began to play and tune their instruments. All three children were as absorbed by the many instruments and the story the puppets told as by the music that were played.
I tip my hat to both the puppeteers and the orchestra for creating an entertaining experience for children of all ages. As the noise of restless children grew toward the end of the concert, I was concerned the show would be too long — but the performers were very mindful who was in attendance, and kept the performance short, lasting about 50 minutes.
The show we attended was a free program as well, thanks to Target Cooperation. The SPCO and Target teamed up for to make these experiences possible for families, introducing young children to classical music.
Although "For the Love of Nature" was the first orchestra concert for our family, we will definitely be back for other concerts in the future. The show was entertaining, funny, and engaged our children. A job well done!
John Hierlinger lives with his family in St. Paul. He works as a Lutheran pastor at a church in Columbia Heights.
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