SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Intermission at the South Orange Symphony’s concert on Jan. 26 was full of string plucking and trombone sliding, as the orchestra hosted a “musical petting zoo,” where children in the audience could take the instruments for a test drive. The zoo was part of the orchestra’s annual family concert, which invites families to South Orange Middle School to introduce them to the music and instruments featured onstage. The SOMS sixth-grade chamber orchestra joined the symphony in the second half.
The concert opened with “Dance of the Hours” from “Fantasia,” by Amilcare Ponchielli, and selections from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake.” During the ballet, children were given swan wings made out of paper and invited to dance along to music at the front of the auditorium.
“Any orchestra should have an educational element,” symphony conductor Susan Haig said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Jan. 24. “The amount of activity in the schools is extraordinary.”
The SOMS orchestra was rehearsing with the symphony leading up to the concert, giving the students a chance to see an option of where they could play if they continue playing into adulthood.
“They’re part of a large string section, so this gives them a chance to see what that’s like,” Haig said. “They’re playing with experienced players, and they’re on their own stage.”
Viola player and orchestra librarian Janet Poland agreed.
“They are our future. We’re not a young orchestra,” she joked in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “Some of us are young, but a lot of us aren’t. So looking at them is looking at what we will be, eventually.”
Most of the members of the orchestra are not professional musicians like Haig.
“It’s a community orchestra, so many are in other fields,” she said. “We have a few professionals and a few ringers who fill in, but you’d be surprised how many great community groups are around here. There’s a lot of talent.”
The auditorium at SOMS was crowded with families and young children, many of them touching and attempting to play trumpets, trombones, violins and cellos for the first time.
“When you poll musicians, most of them fell in love with their instrument at some point. It was the sound or the look of it,” Haig said. “It’s just a delight, you can see how excited they are.”
Poland said about 300 people are in the audience at each of the orchestra’s three concerts per year.
“We love to do these things,” Haig said. “It’s really about arts and community coming together.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic