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Originally published Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Symphony programs bring kids, music together

Seattle Symphony reaches out to kids with education programs — and a fun, family SummerFest.

Special to The Seattle Times

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For a full description of SSO education, Soundbridge and community outreach programs, visit www.seattlesymphony.org.

Concert previews

SummerFest

Presented by Seattle Symphony. "The Blue Planet Live!," 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 8 p.m. Wednesday; "Cirque de la Symphonie," 8 p.m. Friday and next Saturday; "Fiddlin' Fun with Mark O'Connor," 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. next Saturday; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$75 for "Blue Planet" and "Cirque," $9 for "Fiddlin' Fun" (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).

About six years ago, I took my son to one of Seattle Symphony Orchestra's "Discover Music!" concerts for kids on a Saturday morning at Benaroya Hall.

Afterward, we poked around the lobby, where a kind of petting zoo for orchestral instruments was on display. While my son screeched on a violin, I picked up a trumpet for the first time in my life, put my lips to it and — wow!

I knew instantly this was the instrument I should have been playing since elementary school. If only I'd felt that connection, say, 40 years earlier. But wouldn't it be great if some 8-year-old wandered by the same display later that day and felt a sudden, similar passion for the trumpet?

Epiphanies undoubtedly happen all the time for kids touched one way or another by a host of Seattle Symphony programs designed to develop music appreciation and skills in children.

One way the symphony reaches out to kids is through pure entertainment, says Tom Philion, SSO's executive director. Another is through education on various levels. Then there are offerings aimed at cultivating future symphony audiences.

"We do a lot," says Philion. "It's really important to help the educational process, filling in gaps where music and other arts take a hit when school budgets get tight. We also have engaging programs for kids. And we try to help young players. Every season we do 'Side-by-Side' concerts, putting young musicians beside members of the symphony. That's a program where kids play with professionals, see the way they talk and prepare during rehearsals, answer questions and get pointers. That kind of mentoring is critical for a young player."

Besides "Side-by-Side," Seattle Symphony works with developing musicians through several other impressive programs. Select rehearsals are open to secondary-school music students, allowing them to observe professional rehearsal techniques and ask questions. "Gold Medalists" rewards high-school instrumentalists of high proficiency with a chance to perform with the orchestra.

But SSO also has a wide array of music appreciation and learning opportunities for nonplayers. For the younger set, the "Tiny Tots" series for pre-kindergartners, led by local childhood-music experts, are "move along, singalong shows." "Discover Music!" is a series with the full orchestra featuring short symphonic works and commentary.

In 2001, SSO opened Soundbridge, a music-exploration center on Second Avenue and Union Street where interactive exhibits allow visitors to see what it's like to wield a baton or play in an orchestra. There are also real instruments to handle and 500 classical recordings at a listening bar.

Seattle Symphony's school curriculum includes "Symphony On Wheels," a van that brings orchestral instruments and education staff to visit third- through fifth-grade kids at their schools. "Musicians In Schools" provides half-day residencies featuring a woodwind quintet or string quartet that begin in the classroom and culminate in an all-school assembly.

On the entertainment side, SSO's SummerFest schedule celebrating musical diversity includes several child-friendly events. "The Blue Planet Live!" features symphony and chorus performing music from the soundtrack of the hit BBC nature series, while images from the show are projected above. (A note to parents of tender little ones: Scenes of "predatory behavior" typical of nature documentaries will be shown.) "Cirque de la Symphonie" brings the symphony together with aerialists and acrobats.

And a big treat is in store with "Fiddlin' Fun with Mark O'Connor." The world-renowned classical-jazz-folk fiddler will team with Kindermusik educators for a morning of music encouraging kids ages 5-and-under to clap along and wiggle to different tempos.

O'Connor, SummerFest's director, says, "I always love playing for children.

"It's incumbent on the arts to look out for the next generation and train them," he says. "If older musicians hadn't done that for me, I wouldn't be where I am."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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