The Livermore-Amador Symphony recently partnered with an elementary school to create a lively, colorful online presentation for students and the wider community.
"Every spring since 2015, the symphony has brought a chamber orchestra directly into elementary schools in Livermore and Pleasanton, and in 2019, into Dublin schools as well. We typically perform in three schools before 1,000 students or more on a given day," music director Lara Webber said.
"The pandemic made that impossible this year to do in person, so we wanted to find a compelling way to reach out to all students online with a video performance of Sergei Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf,'" she added.
The musical performance is a recording of the Livermore-Amador Symphony made at its free family concert at the Bankhead Theater in 2015, narrated by then-mayor John Marchand.
"Alan Frank, symphony bassist and current board president, crafted a video which essentially animates the story with carefully curated images of student artwork," Webber said. "Marchand and our musicians make special appearances in short excerpts filmed while confined to home by the pandemic. The result is charming and fun."
Prokofiev's music uses the instruments of the orchestra to represent the characters of this timeless story of Peter and his animal friends saving their community from a menacing wolf.
Anne Anaya, a violinist and Livermore-Amador Symphony board member who teaches third grade at Smith Elementary, explained the collaboration between students and the symphony.
"After speaking with Alan Frank about his desire to mix our symphony's audio performances with images, we came up with the idea to enlist the help of the third-graders at my school," Anaya said.
"I designed a virtual lesson, and with the help of the third-grade teaching team and our principal, Joe Meunier, we shared the lesson with about 120 students," she continued, adding:
"Students watched a video version of the music mixed with animation. With just a bit of art instruction, students drew images, mixing pen with crayon. We are all incredibly proud of the creativity and enthusiasm of our young Smith school artists."
The students were enthusiastic.
"My favorite part was when the wolf was tricked and got caught," one said. "I loved drawing pictures for 'Peter and the Wolf.' It was really fun. The music was just right."
"My favorite part was the pictures because they were fun to look at," another student said.
"It is a story of a little boy with animals and his grandfather when there is a wolf they try to shoot but lost a friend while doing it," commented another. "Then they get a grip on the wolf."
Webber noted that it felt particularly important for the symphony to continue its outreach efforts this year.
"Teachers everywhere have had to do the impossible -- find a way to teach in an engaging and participatory way without being able to be in the same room with their students," she said. "This is especially difficult for music classes. All of us who make music in a group have lost contact with that most human of all experiences.
"We must ensure that as schools reopen and normalcy gradually returns, our society redoubles and increases its efforts to ensure music making and art remain a vibrant part of the core curriculum available to all students.
"Music is magic -- it engages the brain and sparks creative thinking like nothing else can. It connects us and promotes empathy. The pandemic has stolen this from us for a whole year, so it will be very important and cathartic to bring it back into the lives of students everywhere, and our community at large."
This outreach video is dedicated to the memory of Virginia McFann, an educator and founding member of Livermore-Amador Symphony who died recently. The video will be posted at www.livermoreamadorsymphony.org.
About 'Peter and the Wolf'
Sergei Prokofiev composed "Peter and the Wolf" as a symphonic fairytale for children in 1936 as a way to introduce them to the instruments in an orchestra. Since then it has been narrated and recorded by many famous voices, including the following:
* Eleanor Roosevelt with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1950
* Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic in 1960
* Carol Channing with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra in 1979
* Lina Prokofiev (Sergei Prokofiev's widow) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1987
* David Attenborough with the BBC Philharmonic in 2000.
Editor's note: Patricia J. Boyle, past president of the California Writers Club Tri-Valley branch, has been writing about the Livermore-Amador Symphony for eight years.