On Sunday, impressive vistas of the Ariel-Foundation Park were accompanied by the sound of the Knox County Symphony as part of their annual Children’s Concert. The performance, which focused on the natural world, was fitting for the stunning landscape.
The symphony has been performing the Children’s Concert for several years, and each year Benjamin “Doc” Locke, professor of music and conductor of the symphony, chooses music to fit a new theme. These themes are meant to emphasize something important about the essence and significance of music, and help audiences not only to hear the sounds but also to understand the narrative they tell. When Locke chose the theme of surprise a few years ago, for example, he wanted to demonstrate how “music is a set-up of expectations” that creates suspense and surprise to keep the audience engaged. Through his themes, Locke strives to educate children and adults about how “music is manipulated by composers” to achieve a desired effect in audiences.
This year’s theme was animals and representation. The Knox County Symphony performed three pieces: “Katydid Waltz” by local composer Sarah Goslee Reed, “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev. Before each piece, Locke revealed the story in the music by demonstrating how the composer uses their score to tell a narrative. He explored with the audience how each composer uses distinct musical sequences to represent characters and events.
“Peter and the Wolf”, for example, tells the story of a young boy named Peter who helps a bird and cat catch a vicious wolf that has already devoured a duck and now pursues them. Each animal in the music’s story has a unique musical sequence and instrument that represents its part in the narrative.
Before playing the whole piece, the symphony played each of these sequences for the audience. After each sequence, Locke turned to the children and asked them to guess which character they thought it represented. Once each significant role in the narrative had been established, Locke invited Professor of Political Science Fred Baumann to join the symphony on stage and tell the story as they played.
As Locke conducted the symphony through “Peter and the Wolf,” Baumann read the story, bringing together the characters’ musical sequences and the plotline of the piece. This combination of story and music demonstrated the powerful connection between the two seemingly separate genres. It showed audiences that music can help bring a story to life.
“If music isn’t fun, it isn’t music,” Locke said.