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Free Concert (With Strings Attached)

Pacific Symphony Orchestra plays gratis today in Anaheim as part of an outreach program designed to hook new listeners.

August 03, 2003|Denise M. Bonilla | Times Staff Writer

Someone send out a search party: Beethoven is missing. Mozart and Bach aren't around much anymore either.

In an age when flashy music videos dictate fashion and TV commercials scream for attention with rock songs, classical music is often relegated to a forgotten corner of the pop culture arena.

The Pacific Symphony Orchestra hopes to polish that image and grab some new fans this weekend, with free concerts in Santa Ana and Anaheim. As it launches its 25th season, the orchestra is looking to get closer to the community, young and old.

On Saturday, the orchestra held a musical celebration in Santa Ana that featured food, art exhibits and musical games; a similar event is planned for today in Anaheim. The orchestra also plans concerts in parks, libraries and colleges throughout the county in the coming months. "The object is to create a barrier-free program for community members who might not usually participate in classical music," said John E. Forsyte, president of the orchestra. "We're trying to light a flame not only in children but also their families."

One of the orchestra's goals is to battle stereotypes that cause some people to dismiss symphonic music as tame or boring.

"People have the perception that classical music is relaxing," Forsyte said. "It's really ironic, because when I listen to classical music, my pulse rate goes up, my hands start perspiring -- it's an immense journey."

Some also may think orchestral music is only for wealthy or upper-class patrons of the arts. Also not true, Forsyte said. Anyone can come to hear the symphony play during its regular concert season that begins in October. "It's not about class; it's about interest," he said. "There's no cultural barrier."

The orchestra has tied several activities to its performances that target younger audience members. Children can create their own instruments from such household products as paper plates and oatmeal containers as part of a "musical playground." They also may join a musical parade before the concert and can submit written questions for the orchestra, which are answered onstage. Other activities include talking with symphony musicians and learning to conduct from music director Carl St.Clair.

"The goal is to get them geared up and excited and connected to the concert, so that it's not just 'OK, come and listen to some music,' " said Shana Lindsey-Morgan of the orchestra's education department.

The orchestra has several other education programs. Arts-X-Press, a middle school arts immersion program, runs during the summer and allows students to explore ways of expressing themselves. Class Act, a program conducted with 40 elementary schools in the county, gives students, among other experiences, an "adopted" orchestra musician with whom they have regular sessions. The program, now entering its 10th year, serves more than 25,000 students.

As budget cuts steadily limit school music curriculums, programs such as Class Act take on increased significance. Lindsey-Morgan estimates that about 40% of the schools that participate in Class Act have no music program.

"Ten years ago when we started this program, it was to add and deepen [children's] understanding of symphonic music," she said. "But it's starting to be the only music experience these kids have."

Instilling an appreciation of classical music at an early age is crucial, Forsyte said, because understanding the music requires training.

"With theater, dance, opera, something is being told in a literal way," he said. "With symphonic music, it's up to your imagination to create a unique response. How it sits with you, what emotions it evokes -- it's completely a private experience."

Children are more receptive to learning about orchestral music, he said, because they are not weighed down by years of listening to other types of music, such as rock, which is often homophonic, or made up of one melody. Classical music is polyphonic, with two or more melodies woven together.

"When [children] come to concerts, they are wildly enthusiastic," Forsyte said. "They have no preconceived notions about music."

Aside from programs such as Class Act and free orchestral concerts, acquainting children with classical music is becoming more difficult.

Hollywood used to embrace symphonic music, and symphonic composers such as Leonard Bernstein were regularly featured on radio and television. But after rock and Top 40 music began to dominate, the symphonic audience slowly declined.

"Over time with commercialism, [classical music] has become a fringe thing," he said. "Orchestras are working harder and harder to find relevance for the community at large."

The Pacific Symphony Orchestra performs at 5 p.m. today at Pearson Park, 400 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim.

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