The chamber orchestra is getting children interested in the form with its ROCOrooters program.
For proof, offers ROCO founder Alecia Lawyer, look no further than the chair of the organization’s board of directors.
“(His) kids started going to ROCOrooters when they were itty-bitty, and now they’re up in the balcony with him in junior high,” she says. “They’re reading a book while they listen, but I don’t care.”
With ROCOrooters, instead of hiring a babysitter, patrons at ROCO’s concerts — and frequently the musicians themselves — drop their kids off with Keisha Twitchell, who took over the program in 2016. Eventually, they will be escorted into the concert space to watch one or two of the pieces on the evening’s program.
Before (or sometimes after) that happens, Twitchell might teach the kids some rudimentary music theory, help them with a dance or art project, or, if possible — ROCO does a lot of world premieres — highlight a few examples from the pieces they’re about to hear. Much of it is centered around learning about the sounds different instruments make — “kids find that very exciting,” Twitchell says.
ROCOrootersWhen: 10 a.m. Oct. 3
Details: Free; roco.org
Naturally, light refreshments are provided.
“I have a family, I want my children to learn more about the arts, and about music, and I would like to bring them to concerts but sitting through a very long, formal classical-music concert is a bit much for three wiggly boys,” says Twitchell, who also teaches music at Park Place Elementary in HISD.
“So to be able to have an option for them to come to part of it and hear music that is contemporary, engaging, and fun, and then go back and kind of decompress and talk about what they heard, what they saw, I think it really is a unique program in itself,” she adds. “I’m proud to work for something so innovative and unique.”
One especially memorable lesson for her came when ROCO performed the Háry János Suite by 20th-century Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály. The piece generously deploys the cimbalom, a dulcimer-like folk instrument that can also be heard in the opening-title sequence to the 2009 film “Sherlock Holmes.”
“The lesson plan I created we looked at images, we listened to some sound clip examples, (and) we looked at other traditional instruments from some other surrounding European countries, because they’re not the same instruments you see and hear about all the time,” says Twitchell.
She also made up a “stompy” dance to accompany the piece, she adds.
All of the above is what goes on during normal times, however. Now that ROCO will be doing their entire upcoming season virtually, Twitchell has been preparing to create a series of videos that outline similar concepts as her in-person lessons. They will be posted on Saturday mornings following selected performances in ROCO’s In Concert and Unchambered series; the first goes up Oct. 3.
One idea Twitchell has hit on so far is to illustrate the connections between music and literature.
“My mom’s a librarian and I grew up reading, so music and literature and poetry always seem to just make sense together,” she says. “The concert is all about music and light and color, so I plan on bringing ‘My Many-Colored Days’ by Dr. Seuss and having them move with color and talk about color and emotions, and how all of these things just kind of come together.”
When it comes to discussing ROCO’s many brand-new pieces — which kind of put her on the spot from an educator’s standpoint — Twitchell says she’s looking forward to telling her students things like “this piece was written the year you were born,” or perhaps linking the music with kid-friendly current events such as the space program. She’s also glad to see so many female composers represented in the orchestra’s repertoire.
“I studied as a French horn player in college and it was all dead white guys, so it’s really neat to listen (to) and see other women,” she says. “It’s very inspiring to see such an upcoming field in classical music, which tends to celebrate music that has gone on way before us.
“As beautiful as that music is, and as much as I love it, it’s so amazing to see and hear music happening in my day and age, and to share that with young children,” she adds.
Something else Twitchell hopes to get across in her videos is the idea that anyone can be a musician, whether or not they can afford expensive lessons.
“They can be their own musician as long as they just give it a try,” she says. “So for them to have the confidence to create their own music, and that music can help them find calm in otherwise chaotic moments in their lives — those are the things that I want my students to take home.”
Chris Gray is a Galveston-based writer.