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She Brings a Collage of Music to Young Audiences

December 21, 1987|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — A doll stands at the entrance to the Young Audiences' office in the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. She has a snare drum hanging around her neck and a button on her scarf that says, "Music is Everybody's Language."

She seems the perfect usher to a colorful, sprawling room that looks less like an administrative hub than a kindergarten; the room is wallpapered with photos of smiling children alongside a crayon drawing of three figures playing trumpet, trombone and horn, the notes rising above their instruments.

On a shelf, coffee mugs decorated with clusters of musical notes crowd up against the cards, the posters, the blowups of Young Audiences' singers, dancers, musicians, and of course the letters, such as the one to dancers Denise Dabrowski and Patrick Nollet: "Dear Denise and Patrick, Thank you for coming to my school. I'm going to be a dancer just like you when I grow up."

Then your eyes drift to the beaming, gray-haired colorfully dressed director whose clothes, like her office, project a celebratory spirit from the musical notes on her sweater to those on her socks. And one realizes that the room is Beulah Henderson.

"I like to collage things," Henderson explained.

On a Mission

It's an approach she takes not just to decorating but to the 27-year-old nonprofit San Diego program (a chapter of the 34-year-old national organization) that she has been managing for seven years. Her "mission," as she describes it, is to find artists with an educational bent, and sometimes educators with an artistic bent, schedule them in programs that range from mime and magic to classical, folk and popular music and dance, then inspire the performers to work for minimum pay so she can keep the cost of the programs to the schools down to $127-$264 a show.

"It's a unique type of person we find," Henderson said. She gestures toward one of her favorite recruits, Terry O'Donnell, a professor of drama and music at San Diego State University, where Henderson, her husband and their daughters went to school. O'Donnell, who designed the three musical theater programs now on the schedule, is typical of the kind of participant who does not need the work or the money.

"I do outreach for the University," O'Donnell said. "I calculated that I've directed 120 performances in five years. And I just added up Young Audiences. I've done 185 in five years. I can't believe it. What kind of madness is it?"

So busy was O'Donnell that five years ago, when Henderson first asked him to join the team, his reaction was, "I don't need this."

However, he said, Henderson hooked him on "the remarkable connection with the children. It feeds back double. It sounds so sentimental and syrupy. But just seeing the enrapturement, the total concentration on their faces . . . makes you a more heartfelt performer." This summer, it wasn't too much of a stretch for Henderson to convince him to take on additional duties as artistic adviser and consultant in fund development.

What is her technique?

"This is no different from being a coach. Getting people to want to do it," she said, smiling.

Henderson, 58, first coached more than 30 years ago when she became a physical education teacher. She married Robert Henderson, a high school music teacher and an organist, in 1955 and helped him design school music programs. They also raised three daughters, who all became accomplished string players (one, who left the San Diego Symphony during the lockout, now plays for the Louisville Symphony Orchestra in Kentucky). Her children's musical accomplishments are a point of great pride to Henderson; she mentions it on her resume.

When her daughters joined the Civic Youth Orchestra, Henderson's energy and organizational skills were noticed and tapped by another persuasive person--Sally Thornton, then the president of the Civic Youth Orchestra. Thornton signed Henderson on as manager of the organization in 1971. The dynamic between them worked so well that when Thornton became president of Young Audiences in 1979, she asked Henderson to become the executive director.

Thinking her hands were already about as full as they could be, Henderson hesitated. "It took her about a year to convince me."

Henderson then took on both jobs from 1980-1983 when she "retired" from the orchestra to devote herself to Young Audiences, which is technically a part-time job but actually a full-time one. In 1985, she brought one of her daughters, Kathleen Henderson Simmons, on as the part-time secretary/scheduler for Young Audiences, which increased the staff to two.

Simmons, a professional free-lance violinist, played with the California Ballet Company's "The Nutcracker" Dec. 11-13 (which Dabrowski and Nollet of 3's Company also danced in) and will be playing in the orchestra for the four performances of San Diego Opera's "Faust" in February.

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