Extending an Invitation

November 19th, 2012 § 0 comments

It is mid-November, and while many (myself included) eagerly look forward to the holidays, I also want to reflect on the past two weeks of activity in the Community Engagement & Education Department at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.  These have been busy times as we deliver materials to schools participating in Link Up, roll out the LIFE Student Art Contest, and have hosted more than 3,000 area students in the first two education concerts of the 2012-2013 season.  Despite the many misfortunes of Superstorm Sandy, the HSO was able to move forward with the Hoffman Foundation Chamber Orchestra Series performance of Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf.  Just last week, students were taken on an exploration of instrument families in a Lincoln Financial Discovery Concert that had Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra at its core.

peter-and-the-wolf-10-31-12

As I think about these two concerts in particular, I am reminded of a characteristic that must remain at the core of an orchestra’s educational programming, and I would argue further, at the core of an orchestra’s overall mission.  The characteristic to which I refer is accessibility.  In its most basic form, accessibilityrefers to the capability that something may be reached.  This begs the question then, “What must orchestras do to allow students and other community members to reach classical music?”

Recognizing this as no small feat, I am proud to say that the HSO takes many steps to bring classical music within reach of students and many others across our region.  Thanks to the generous support of many corporate and individual donors, cost and ticket prices are not barriers that prevent schools from allowing their students to reach great works like Young Person’s Guide.  The HSO Community Engagement & Education Department creates and compiles lesson plans for teachers to use to prepare students for attending concerts, allowing students to develop insight and knowledge that brings the concert experience within reach.  Repertoire for education concerts is intentionally selected to coincide with learning standards in many disciplines so that students can access the music and draw connections with other aspects of their lives.  We strive to remove barriers that would make it difficult for students to reach the musical experiences we value so highly.

Accessibility cannot simply be a removal of roadblocks or a “weeding” of the path to the concert hall.  There is an element of accessibility that I believe does more than simply put something within reach.  It is invitation.  Sure, so we have cleared the path to make classical music reachable, but are we making it inviting?  Do students and other community members feel welcome at our concerts and performances?  We believe wholeheartedly in the transformative nature of music, not only for children and students, but for communities and society at large.  Let’s not only “clear the path” and put great classical music within reach for our students and community members, but let’s make sure that we also offer a warm and genuine invitation for them to take part.  Only when we do this can we say that our music has been truly accessible.

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