A fair-haired 4-year-old firmly grasped the big mallet with both hands and, like Casey at the bat, gave the Chinese gong a smash.
He dissolved into giggles as the percussion instrument clashed notably with the tootlings, scrapings and warblings coming from various corners of Exhibit Room No. 3 in the La Habra Children's Museum, as children of various ages tried their hands at drums, flutes and tap shoes.
"Fame" is the name of this game: The exhibit, giving children aged 3 through 13 an introduction to non-pop music and dance, was named after the movie and television series that celebrates the performing talents of teen-agers.
Museum director Catherine Michaels said that the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 13, emphasizes those aspects of music and dance that children "don't get enough of these days."
"The days when a piano was found in everybody's living room are going fast," she continued, standing in front of the exhibit's folk music display and gesturing toward a little girl blithely tinkling the ivories. "These days, it's a VCR (videocassette recorder) or a computer instead. It just didn't seem like young children were getting the same kind of exposure to music as they did 20 years ago."
It was with rapt attention that the group of 20 or so youngsters listened to head tour guide Dorothy Fite explain where the violins are in an orchestral seating arrangement, and how different kinds of flutes and drums come from different countries.
And when it came time to pick volunteers to play some of those instruments, there was a small forest of hands for Fite to choose from.
"Oh, sure, all the kids who come here get very excited at the prospect of playing some instruments, or dressing up in a tutu," Fite said later, continuing to keep an eye on her now-loose charges.
"But what really surprised me," she continued, "was that the kids who work here (generally in their teens) have actually learned some songs on the piano or the flute just by hanging around and noodling. And they had, I believe, no previous musical teaching."
Fite smiled. "I guess that means we're getting through to the little ones, too."
It's a many-faceted, if modest, view of music and dance those youthful visitors are receiving. Folk, ethnic, classical and electronic music and tap, jazz, modern and ethnic dance all rate some space in Exhibit Room No. 3, with costumes and instruments doing the most educational work.
The instruments themselves do take something of a beating--4-year-olds get pretty excited sometimes, after all. But Michaels said that the exhibit's sponsors--area music stores, dance studios and the Landmark Bank of La Habra--have been more than understanding.
"We've already gone through quite a few drums and mallets," she noted, "so sometimes we just improvise. Just so long as the lesson gets through."
An impromptu duet between a boisterous "Fred Astaire"--complete in top hat and tux--and a rather unwilling "Ginger Rogers" (in pink tutu and wild headdress) came to an enthusiastic (if messy) close, and Michaels applauded.
"We haven't heard from the parents yet whether the kids are taking their discoveries home with them," the museum's director said. "But we do know the theater exhibit we held last year (similar in concept to "Fame") engendered a number of new students in local junior high schools' drama departments. So this might just work out the same way."
Just then, another huge crash resounded from the gong. Michaels winced, then smiled. "We've been running through earplugs around here, too. It's noisy--but it's also a lot of fun, for us and for the kids."