Austin Haley narrates as the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra plays Peter and the Wolf during a performance for the 22nd annual Education Concert that was attended by students from local schools Monday. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
The Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra and members of the Arkansas Festival Ballet entertained and educated almost 1,500 fifth graders from throughout Southeast Arkansas Monday afternoon at the Pine Bluff Convention Center as part of a multi-decade effort to bring symphonic music to an audience that would otherwise likely never get to hear it.
Under the leadership of music director/conductor Charles Jones Evans, the PBSO presented the 22nd annual educational concert “Peter and the Wolf.”
PBSO Executive Director William H. Fox Jr. said that the student concerts are extremely important to the quality of life of the young people who attend them.
“These concerts are so important because they expose young people to the arts and the symphony in particular because many of them would never have another exposure to live symphony music,” Fox said. “We do not try to play down to the kids but instead present them with the full concert experience. The musicians wear their dress black just as they do at all of their concerts. With the exception of their performance of ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ the concert was a direct lift from Sunday’s holiday concert.”
Fox said that the educational concerts sometimes lead to a lifelong love of classical music by some of the young people.
“We feel that this exposure is very valuable,” Fox said. “It often trips a switch in kids and they become interested. We aren’t trying to send them all to Carnegie Hall but if they make it there, even as a member of the audience, we want to make sure that they learned what they need to know.”
Fox said that in the more than two decade history of the educational concerts performed by the PBSO there have been as many as a dozen young people who have gone on to pursue careers in music as a result of their exposure to the PBSO.
“We rent and loan instruments to fifth graders at Pine Bluff schools,” Fox said. “For those who continue to play many colleges offer music scholarships to play in the symphony or to sing in the choir even if they don’t major in music. Some of them have been the first people in their family to get a college education, which was made possible by playing in the symphony program.”
The Monday concert included several selections from the Sunday concert, including ‘Farandole’ from L’Arlesienne by George Bizet, and dance selections from the ballet, The Nutcracker by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, complete with dancers from the Arkansas Festival Ballet.
Peter & the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev was performed by the PBSO and narrated by professional actor and Pine Bluff native Austin Haley.