It was pajama day at the Northeast Community Center and the Head Start children wore their jammies and clutched their stuffed animals. They filed into the room where a trio of musicians from the Spokane Symphony finished a classical number. The children sat at the musicians’ feet.
They stared at first, as if trying to figure out something never seen before. You could see those preschool minds work overtime. Not TV, not the radio, not a CD, but live music! The children began swaying to the music. Soon, their stuffed animals - a panda bear, a green puppet frog, a cheerful cow - swayed, too.
The music ended and one of the children pointed to an instrument and said: “I like the big one!” The musician said, “This is called a cello. It rhymes with Jell-O.” The children repeated cello, Jell-O, cello, Jell-O.
Then, the preschoolers piled out of the room and the musicians packed up for home. Amid the troubling news last week stood a bright spot of music, hope and enrichment. At a press conference held at Northeast Community Center, The Spokane Symphony announced its plans to bring music to neighborhoods in the next five years, thanks to a $25,000 grant from Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co.
Symphony officials and Metropolitan representatives briefly explained why it’s so important to get music down to the neighborhood level. Yet it was the children’s swaying and delight that made crystal clear why it’s essential to let classical music out of the big halls and into smaller arenas where people gather.
“Most of the things that make a real difference happen at the neighborhood level,” said Jean Farmer, assistant director of the community center. “Music gives the opportunity to refresh the soul. And that’s what you build everything around - soul and feelings.”
The symphony has not yet decided exactly where those neighborhood concerts will be held. It would like to do them in the East Central, West Central, Northeast and Peaceful Valley neighborhoods. Inside or outside - doesn’t matter. The symphony is open to suggestions.
The program doesn’t just benefit the neighborhoods but the symphony as well. As Catherine Rafferty of the symphony explained: “We have the resource of musicians and they are a treasure. We need to preserve them. We need to get them off the stage and into the hands of the people.”
And who knows what young person in one of those neighborhoods will be touched by the sound of the violin, the flute, the horn, the harp. It might be a child who would never venture into the Opera House or The Met but who would tag along with the family to a neighborhood concert. That young person might aspire to play an instrument, too, and understand firsthand the truth of these words written by symphony musician Barbara Novak:
“Music belongs to everyone. It serves the larger community. Whenever there is something to commemorate, something to celebrate, a rite of passage to mark, a ritual to perform, people turn to music. Music can inspire and move people and nations to achieve great things. Music is the great comforter of souls. When all else fails, there is music.”
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