Children's Concerts

Children's concerts. Symphony concerts for children in North America began in 1883 under Theodore Thomas in New York. His programs were built around established light concert works such as the William Tell Overture or The Blue Danube Waltz.

Symphony concerts for children in North America began in 1883 under Theodore Thomas in New York. His programs were built around established light concert works such as the William Tell Overture or The Blue Danube Waltz. This set a pattern adhered to in the USA, Canada, and ultimately Great Britain during the following 75 years. Children attended the concerts independently or in organized groups. Admission prices were nominal, and transportation often was provided. In Canada after 1950 children's and youth concerts have included comments by the conductor or an assistant; program notes, adapted to the age group they serve, sometimes have been supplied, and literature and recordings sent to classroom teachers in advance for preparation of the young audience. Radio and TV have been used to supplement classroom work. The CBC has co-operated in producing and transmitting national and provincial radio programs during school hours (see School music broadcasts). The NFB and educational TV stations sponsored by some provincial departments of education have produced programs on music for the young. However, symphony orchestras in Canada, whether the major ones or the community orchestras, remain the main purveyors of children's classical music concerts and devote up to 10 per cent of their time to them (see also Orchestras). It has become common, too, for small groups of performers from the local orchestra to make informal appearances in school classrooms, gymnasiums, and public libraries, to play and also to discuss music and instruments with the children. Active participation and involvement by the children are sought through techniques of inductive teaching. The organization and administration of these programs usually is carried out by volunteer groups associated with the orchestras, working with local boards of education, public library boards, and corporate sponsors who give financial and often material support. One of the most important corporate sponsors is Shell Canada, which in the 1970s began sponsoring educational concerts in Quebec City and by 1990 had expanded the program to Halifax, St John, Trois Rivières, Montreal, Toronto, London, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Calgary.

The Calgary Symphony Orchestra gave its first young people's matinée concert 25 Nov 1913, performing works by Grétry, Haydn, Delibes, Schumann, Dvořák, and Waldteufel for a public-school audience, each of whom paid 15 cents to attend. The TSO gave its first children's concerts in 1925 and 1926. However these lapsed until 1930, when regular series began to be presented annually. The Montreal Orchestra, the CSM Orchestra (MSO), and the Cercle philharmonique de Québec (Quebec Symphony Orchestra) all initiated children's concerts during the 1930s. The Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra followed during the 1940s and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra ca 1950. During the 1960s the Hamilton Philharmonic began sending chamber groups selected from the orchestra into school classrooms to give hundreds of concerts and in the 1970s began full orchestral concerts for children. The NACO in Ottawa started a family series in 1973 and in 1978 began giving concerts conducted by Mario Duschenes for young people. Known as one of Canada's foremost directors of symphony concerts for children, Duschenes has conducted children's series with the MSO (1970-9), the NACO (1978-8), and the Quebec SO (1969-91), and has guest conducted in cities across Canada and on CBC TV. Among other orchestras presenting children's series are the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra and Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. In 1973 the Vancouver Opera Guild began an 'Opera in the Schools' program. Other noted conductors of children's symphony concerts have included Boris Brott (Hamilton), David Curry (Ottawa), Victor Feldbrill (Winnipeg and Toronto), Eugene Kash (Ottawa), Sir Ernest MacMillan (Toronto), and Wilfrid Pelletier (Montreal, Quebec City).

Among chamber groups, One Third Ninth has prepared and presented programs for children throughout Alberta, the Robert Minden Ensemble has given concerts throughout British Columbia and Ontario, and Canadian Brass has given zestful in-school concerts which have been emulated widely by other chamber groups. The JMC (YMC) has also presented or sponsored concerts for school children. See also Les Amis de l'art; Festivals; Létourneau method; Prologue to the Performing Arts.

Compositions (some of them commissions), that have been written for young audiences range from full orchestral works, operas, and musicals, to chamber music and songs, and include the following Canadian works: Applebaum's The Harper of the Stones (1987), So You Think You're Mozart? (1991) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1991), Milton Barnes'Children's Suite (1966) and Legends for Orchestra (1986), Beckwith's All the Bees and All the Keys (1973), Beecroft'sImprovvisazioni Concertante No. 3 (1973), Allan Bell'sGift of the Wolf (1984) and The Ugly Duckling (1985), Keith Bissell'sHis Majesty's Pie (1966), How the Loon Got its Necklace (1971), and The Miraculous Turnip (1980), Alexander Brott'sThe Emperor's New Clothes (1970) and Thunder and Lightning (1973), Buczynski'sMr. Rhinoceros and His Musicians(1965) and Three Against Many (1973), Barrie Cabena'sThe Selfish Giant (1970), Howard Cable'sSing Sea to Sea (Five Canadian Folksongs) (1979), Patrick Cardy'sThe Snow Queen (1980), Michael Colgrass'Something's Gonna Happen (1978), Clifford Crawley'sPorky, Snorky and Corky (1983) and some 50 other works, Victor Davies'Magic Trumpet (1969), The Curse of Ponsonby Hall (1979), and The Rockets (1987-8), Alan Detweiler's Beware of the Wolf (1964) and David and Goliath (1969), Dela's Le Chat, la belette et le petit lapin (1950, rev 1965), Quentin Doolittle'sDawn, Sleigh Ride (1978), The Second Shepherd Play (1980), and Fantasy on Sumer is Icumen In (1971), Freedman'sSymphonic Variations (1967), March? (1970), Rhymes from the Nursery (1971), Keewaydin (1971), and Tikki Tikki Tembo (1971), James Gayfer'sThe Wells of Marah (1972), Ruth Watson Henderson's Musical Animal Tales (1979), Sequence of Dreams (1983), Clear Sky and Thunder (1983), Barnyard Carols (1986), Creation's Praise (1986), and Dandelion Parachutes (1986), Jacques Hétu'sMirages (1981), Derek Holman'sSongs of Darkness (1976), Three Canadian Folksongs (1981), Dr. Canon's Cure (1982), Night Music (1985), Songs of Youth (1985), and Laudes Creationis (1986), Kelsey Jones'Jack and the Beanstalk (1954), Alfred Kunz'The Song of the Clarinet (1961), The Watchful Gods (1962), Let's Make a Carol (1965), and The Sleeping Giant (1967), Anne Lauber'sBeyond the Sound Barrier/Au delà du mur du son (1983), Paul McIntyre'sAlive (1980), Ann Mortifee'sReflection on Crooked Walking (1982), Pat Patterson's Dandy Lion (1964), Mrs. Red Riding Hood (1968), Popcorn Man (1969), Henry Green and the Mighty Machine (1970), and Cabbagetown Kids (1978), Michel Perrault'sFête et Parade (1952), Tibor Polgar'sThe Dwarf and the Giant (1939, rev 1987), André Prévost's Le Conte de l'oiseau (1979), Imant Raminsh'sPsalm 121 (1984) and Song of the Stars: Songs of the Nights (1985), Eldon Rathburn'sWaltz for Winds (1949, rev 1956), Elizabeth Raum'sAdventures of Ian the Oboe (1985), Fantasy for Double Orchestra (1988), and Robot from Orion (1989), Ridout'sMusic for a Young Prince (1959), The Lost Child (1976), and Kid's Stuff (1978), Schafer'sThrenody (1967), Epitaph for Moonlight (1968), The Star Princess and the Waterlilies (1984), Schipizky'sChildren's Suite (1982), Somers'A Midwinter Night's Dream (1988) and The Owl and the Pussycat (1989), Surdin'sEine kleine 'Hammer-Klapper' Musik (1976), Nancy Telfer'sThe Spell of Time Long Past (1982), Magnificat (1986), and A Time for Sharing (1987), Christopher Weait'sThe Merry Raftsmen (1979), Sasha Weinstangel's Once Upon a Star (1988), and Charles Wilson'sSelfish Giant (1972). The Canadian Children's Opera Chorus commissioned and performed a children's opera by Menotti, Chip and His Dog, in 1979. In 1990 Opera Lyra began a summer program in which children create and perform their own opera. Susan Hammond has produced recordings using classical music woven into story lines for her Classical Kids label (see Recorded sound production).

Concerts of folk and pop music specifically composed for children have become successful commercial events in Canada, usually sold out and coinciding with large sales of the performers' recordings. Some of these performers have created their own companies to produce their recordings, including Raffi's Troubador, Sharon, Lois and Bram's Elephant Records, and Fred Penner's Oak Street Music (see Recorded sound production). By 1991 Canada had become one of the world's leading producers of quality recordings for children. Concerts also take place in schools. The Mariposa Folk Festival established the Mariposa in the Schools program in 1970, and by 1991 had some 40 individual members and groups performing music and theatre arts in the folk tradition throughout Ontario. Members have included Raffi and Sharon, Lois and Bram. Other performers producing both concerts and recordings include: Sandra Beech, Heather Bishop, Charlotte Diamond, Norman Foote, Paul Hann, Brenda and Paul Hoffert, Connie Kaldor, Anne Murray, Eric Nagler, Fred Penner, Suzanne Pinel, Bob Schneider, Nathalie Simard, Valdy, and Ken Whiteley.


Further Reading

  • 'Symphony orchestra children's concert,' Calgary Albertan, 26 Nov 1913

    Armstrong, A.H. 'Ottawa children's concerts,' Canadian Welfare, 23 Dec 1950

    Dugan, James. 'Big music for small people,' Maclean's, 15 Feb 1951

    Davies, Doris, 'Children's concerts - music for the young,' Over the Years [Toronto 1961]

    Syme, Mary. 'Music for children offers opportunities for composers,' CanComp, 4, Dec 1965

    Samson, Marc. 'The world's largest little orchestra,' Mcan, 39, Jun 1979

    Schulman, Michael. 'Sandy, Raffi, Sharon, Lois and Bram,' PfAC, Summer 1979

    'The expanding world of children and music,' Music, Oct 1979

    Sedgwick, Don. 'Sharon, Lois and Bram: new music for children,' CanComp, 146, Dec 1979

    Linton, Marilyn. 'A looking-glass view of staging symphonies for youngsters,'' PfAC, Winter 1979

    Mercer, Ruby. 'Opera's inspiration and challenge in the International Year of the Child,' OpCan, vol 20, Spring 1979

    Ginsberg, Murray. 'The Toronto Symphony education program,' TS News, Mar-Apr 1983

    Byer, Sandy. 'Records 'n kids - Canadian children's records,' CFMB, vol 17, Oct 1983

    Potvin, Gilles. 'Young people and music: more than passive listeners,' Mcan, 54, Jul 1985

    Crabb, Michael. 'Breaking the barrier,' Bravo, vol 2, Nov-Dec 1987

    Mancktelo, Barbara. 'Strings across the sky - Northwest Territories,' Crescendo, vol 31, May 1988

    Littlejohn, Maureen. 'Climbing the kid's music ladder,' CARAS News, Apr 1988

    Prokosh, Kevin. 'Songs for swinging smallfry,' MSc, 367, May-Jun 1989