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Classical Music Gets A Hearing In The Schools

November 14, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

Chapman College music professor John Koshak has developed a three-part strategy to interest young people in classical music.

His most visible activity for the past 15 years has been taking the the Orange County Youth Symphony into the high schools as well as giving public concerts.

(Koshak will open the symphony's 17th season at 4 p.m. Sunday at the college with a program of works by Bizet, Schubert, Strauss and Copland, among others.)

Last year, however, Koshak expanded the activities of his young players by bringing them into the extensive youth outreach programs sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society.

That activity will continue this year, with Koshak and company performing four of the 24 concerts that the Philharmonic Society will present at the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

As if that were not enough, Koshak, 48, also conducts the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra, a 60-member organization of local union musicians that was created for the sole purpose of performing in local high schools.

This activity, now in its second year, is also sponsored by the Philharmonic Society.

"These programs are even more important now than ever because the tremendous cutbacks (in music activities in the public schools) have been so damaging," Koshak said in a recent interview.

"For some of the kids, this may be the first and last time they hear a symphony orchestra. But others may become the music audience of the future.

"It gives me great satisfaction to do them, too, because I get to work with the whole gamut of musicians--youth, college-age, community and professional players."

The Youth Symphony, made up of 85 members, ages 13 to 22, is sponsored by Las Campanas of Orange County, a local philanthropic group, Chapman College and the Orange County Department of Education.

According to Koshak, the young musicians undergo a stiff auditioning process before a committee of public school and private music teachers and local performers. Even previous members have to audition each year.

"The committee selects the orchestra before I ever see it."

Last year, more than 200 young musicians applied. The orchestra rehearses every Wednesday night during the school year.

"Over the years, I have seen the level of musical literacy getting better," Koshak said. "We've gone from playing 'arranged' movements of symphonies to doing works as they were originally written."

While such concerts as Sunday's are simply music programs, the presentations in the high schools and at the Center are "learning, educational concerts," Koshak said.

"They are modeled on Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts (with the New York Philharmonic), which were wonderful to build upon. I'm constantly teaching while I'm up there.

"The approach is to guide the listening, to cover all the instruments and also show what the conductor--as re-creator of the music--really does."

Koshak will try something a little different during the first Philharmonic Society-sponsored young people's concert at the Center on Nov. 24. (About 3,000 fifth-graders will be bused in for each of the two morning programs--at 9:45 and 11 a.m.)

Appearing with him will be two actors from South Coast Repertory: David Keller, who will portray composer George Bizet, and John Ellington, who will narrate the program.

Also on the program will be members of the Huntington Beach-based Ballet Repertory Theatre in works choreographed by company artistic director Anthony Sellars.

"The objective is to show them that there is a composer behind the music and composers are alive," Koshak said. "We're also going to introduce them to the art of the ballet."

His youthful audiences usually demonstrate "overwhelming response," Koshak said.

"They love to hear an orchestra," Koshak said. "And it's a very good situation when young people have a chance to see people not much older than they are performing symphonic music. That's the attraction. It makes it very real to them."

While good programming is the key to a successful concert, Koshak usually selects the standard Romantic repertory.

"A lot of it is big orchestral writing, which is pretty accessible. We're up against instant gratification provided by TV and kids being surrounded by all kinds of sound. So we go for the big sounds--percussion, full brass," Koshak said.

"They will listen to a quiet section, but there has to be something to get to later.

"I also like them to hear something written in the 20th Century and, if possible, hear an American composer. But I don't believe in gimmicks. I feel very strongly that kids respond to quality, as all people do. In the end they do."

The Youth Orchestra's 4 p.m. Sunday public concerts at Chapman College will continue with programs Feb. 22 and April 26, 1987. The Orchestra's Philharmonic Society-sponsored morning concerts at the Performing Arts Center will take place Feb. 2, March 18 and April 28.

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