Students listen, participate as they get special show from Juneau Symphony

Annual excursion helps ignite musical curiosity for fifth graders

Miles Shriver, a fifth grader at Gastineau Community School, had never seen anything like he saw Friday morning.


Shriver, along with more than 400 other fifth graders, watched the Juneau Symphony perform at Juneau-Douglas High School as part of the Any Given Child program to provide a diverse and inspirational arts education to Juneau’s children.

“I’ve only heard this good of music in Disney movies,” Shriver said afterward.

[SLIDESHOW: The Orchestra Sings! at JDHS]

The Symphony played a few pieces that it’s prepared to play at this weekend’s “Shakespeare in Love” concerts, but played a couple more that allowed the children to participate as well. Many of the students brought instruments — including violins, violas, cellos and recorders — and played along with songs such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Lisa Mitchell, a teacher at Mendenhall River Elementary School, said some of her students had been preparing for this show since before winter break. Many of them have never been to a concert like this, Mitchell said, so she’s taught them basic concert etiquette as well as what to expect.

From coming to this in past years, Mitchell said she’s seen the trip to the symphony jumpstart students’ curiosity about music.

“A lot of them get more interested in it,” Mitchell said. “I know in middle school, it’s the first time a lot of them get to pick an instrument to try and play, so it gets them more interested in either, ‘I want to choose a string instrument, or maybe I want to join the band in middle school,’ so it starts the process for them.”

Early on in the program, students were introduced to various musical families — strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion — by members of the symphony. The musicians passed a microphone from section to section, and a representative for each section would speak for a moment before the rest of the section would play a section of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” so the students could hear the difference between the sound that each group of instruments makes.

Juneau Symphony vocalist Sara Radke Brown led the program, encouraging students without instruments to sing along. She and Music Director Troy Quinn taught the attendees about melody and other music basics. In the balcony of the auditorium, Mayor Ken Koelsch watched alongside Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis and Assembly member Mary Becker.

The Any Given Child program has been in Juneau since 2013, using community partnerships to take students outside of the classroom and learn more about arts and culture. Juneau is just the 11th city in the nation to be selected for the program, which was made possible by the Kennedy Center for the Arts. The program also brings students to the Sealaska Heritage Center and to a theatre production to get more exposure to local artwork.

Jen LaRoe, the arts education director for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) and coordinator of Any Given Child, said community partnerships are a key part of providing students with a robust arts education.

“We really want to have these be outstanding experiences for students,” LaRoe said, “since this might be their only time they get to experience one of these art forms. Its target is to make the experience also connect to an activity in school, so either a lesson before they go on the excursion or as a follow up.”

For many of the students, it connected to what they were learning in their music classes. Dozens of recorders played in unison at multiple points in the show as the students played along with pieces they’d worked on for weeks.

Shriver didn’t have an instrument, but was able to sing along and enjoy himself. He wasn’t alone.

“I thought it was really good,” Shriver said as he and his classmates filed out of the auditorium.

Another student ran over, seeing Shriver being interviewed.

“It was awesome,” the other student said before scampering back to his classmates.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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