The low booming hum of the double bass. The flutter of a lyrical melody on flute. The warm, mellow tone of a clarinet, dancing about. The soaring lines of a violin, stretching to reach the heavens. These are the sounds of a first encounter with a live performance of classical music. Sounds that invoke movement and emotion, power and suspense. Sounds that wash over an audience and leap from the stage.
And so it was Thursday, Feb. 18, for a gathering of fifth grade students at Oklahoma Baptist University. For many, they experienced classical music up close and in person for the first time, burning those feelings and senses in their mind for years to come. For most if not all, they were delighted by what they heard.
OBU welcomed fifth grade classes from five area schools, totaling more than 300 students, to campus for a special performance of “Carnival of the Animals – a Zoological Fantasy,” by Camille Saint-Saens. The whimsical, lyrical, expressive piece was the ideal first step into a larger world of music for many of these students. And that, in fact, was precisely the point.
Saint-Saens was a French composer who began playing the piano at age two, performing first publicly at the age of five. He composed “Carnival of the Animals” in 1886 while on holiday with friends, intending it purely for amusement and entertainment and not originally for public consumption. The piece consists of fourteen short movements, each capturing the sounds and personalities of the animals, including the lion, hens, turtles, elephants, kangaroos, donkeys, swans, and the cuckoo. The music moves as somewhat of a “musical parade” of the animals, mimicking sounds of the fierce lion, the playful whimsy of hens and roosters picking at feed, the slow deliberate ease of the turtle and the grace of the swan.
Students attended the performance from Jefferson Elementary in Shawnee, Grove Elementary, Northwood Elementary in Seminole, Bethel Elementary, and McLoud Elementary. Sheri Thompson and her class at Jefferson studied the music for two weeks in preparation for the event. “My students have truly enjoyed studying ‘Carnival of the Animals,’” she said. “The live performance of the piece makes it such a personal experience. It is one thing to watch a performance on video, but to see it performed by musicians that my students were familiar with puts it in the realm of possibility for them. It makes them believe, ‘I could do that, too.’ It inspires them. I am truly thankful for Dr. Chung and her vision to provide us with this quality youth program.
We loved it.”
Dr. Mary Chung, assistant professor of piano, organized the event. This was the first year for what she hopes will become an annual tradition. “The mission of the Division of Music is ‘to educate outstanding artists who will influence and enrich individuals, schools, churches, and communities around the world by glorifying Christ through music.’ What better way is there to grow our students than to serve and bless our community with music?”
Senior music education major Courtney King narrated the performance and interacted with the students between each movement, revealing which animal was next and grabbing the students’ attention throughout. Her animation, excitement, and delivery enthralled the audience, and seamlessly intertwined the narrative with each musical movement.
“I love taking a deeper look at music and why things were composed the way they were,” she said. “It meant a lot to get to share this information with the children and make the pieces come alive. I hope that every child left with a greater appreciation for music, and I hope that they learned something new. Whether it be what a flute sounds like, who Camille Saint-Saens is, or how much fun classical music can be.”
Visual art pieces, designed by senior art major Breanna Love, represented many of the animals featured in the piece, including the lion, rooster, elephant and donkey. These works were showcased during each of the respective movements. She hopes her efforts helped foster a deeper appreciation of the arts in the elementary students. “I am thankful for this opportunity to showcase my work,” Love said. “The music that was played included a wide variety of beautiful sounds that instruments can make, and the music coupled with my art added another form of art that the students could appreciate.”
“I wanted our performance to demonstrate how fun and approachable music can be,” said senior piano major Megan Mattke. “Sometimes, classical music can seem stuffy or dull, but in reality it is full of so much life and beauty. I hope this event will remain in their memory as a day when they were really involved and impacted by music, realizing what diversity of sounds and timbres are available and how they can capture our everyday experiences. I also love to imagine and hope that many of the kids will go on to study music and maybe even be professional musicians in the future.”
Senior Lucas Adams performed on piano and seconded Mattke’s sentiments. “Our prayer in preparing for this event was that we could spark kids' imaginations and make them feel appreciated. All of this was for them, and we hope that they've seen how music can bring true joy to people.”
Dr. James Vernon, professor of music, conducted the performance. “Many children never get to hear a live concert of any type, much less a ‘classical’ concert to which they can relate. Saint-Saens was masterful at writing music that fit the animals he was trying to describe, and the combination of those highly recognizable animals and high quality music creates wonderful imagination in children. Hopefully, they will want to investigate more music, and more creativity through this performance.”
Saint-Saens arranged the work for two pianos and a small ensemble, which included no brass instruments. This performance stayed true to the spirit of that arrangement, featuring Dr. Carlos Feller, flute; Stacy Smith, clarinet; Angelica Pereira, violin I; Rebecca Mosloff, violin II; Thresa Swadley, cello; John Schimek, bass; Thomas Whitmore, percussion; and Mary Crone, Megan Mattke, Lucas Adams, and Laurel Page, all on piano.