I am a strong believer in, and supporter of, educational outreach programs. Whenever I am a guest soloist with a symphony orchestra, or a recitalist on a community concert series, I try whenever possible to offer an outreach program in conjunction with my performance.
The objectives of educational outreach are to provide extended interactions between the artist and the community, to expose and educate student and adult audiences by broadening their understandings of the arts, and to make arts accessible to a wide variety of people.
As a performer, it is a great concern of mine that the majority of audience members are of a generation that will soon no longer be with us; and those younger individuals, who are interested in such programming, often find it easier, or more convenient, to "view" live performances from the comfort of their homes via YouTube, or listen to their favorite artists at the touch of a button on Pandora and Spotify. While all of these online resources are magnificent tools, they certainly should not ever be replacements for the exhilarating experience of a live concert performance.
When one sits in the audience, there is an electricity and magnetism which fills the hall. There is something about being surrounded by the amazing sounds emanating from the stage, much the way one would feel excitement at a live sporting event, political rally or parade.
So, how does one light the fire under the audiences of tomorrow?
Here are just a few ideas:
GRADES K - 5TH
In an educational outreach program involving very young children (K-5), student/audience interaction is key. My goal is to involve them, as well as the aspects of music they are already familiar with, as much as possible, and then demonstrate to them how these elements relate to classical music. Musical terminology itself, for example, can be a confusing and overwhelming concept for very young students, so involving them in a creative way can certainly help them to remember these large vocabulary words well beyond the outreach session. Let's say, for example, I want to talk to them about George Gershwin and the era of Jazz; no doubt the word "improvisation" will surface. Chances are, most early elementary school age children will not recall that word later in the day, let alone days and months down the road.
So, how can such a term be introduced so that they WILL recall it? One way is to invite a few volunteers to join me on stage. I will ask each child to select a letter of the musical alphabet, and hand them a card with that particular letter printed on it. After each child on stage finishes selecting a letter from the musical alphabet, he/she will stand towards me, and I will proceed to play the corresponding note on the piano for each letter they display; this, of course, will result in a melody of sorts. I will ask them, "Do you like this melody you created?" Then, I will ask them what they think will happen if we mix up their order by trading places with their onstage neighbors. After reassembling, I will play the "new melody" and see if they like this one better. After a few more times of this, they will decide their favorite "melody", and then I will proceed to improvise on their created tune, much to their amazement and excitement.
Since they feel they were an integral part of that creative process, they will most likely never forget their new vocabulary word: "improvisation." Children love to press buttons, they love to discover, they love technology and they are crazy about video games! Did you know that many famous melodies from classical music are used in these games? Probably not, and they probably don't either. So, what a perfect way to introduce a composer and a theme: pairing it with something they enjoy! Using my phone or iPad, I will pull up a game, and once the music begins, they generally all proclaim with great excitement how they have played this game, how many times they have won, etc. I ask them if they ever noticed the music that was playing along with the game, and once I have re-focused their attention on it, let them hear the original on the piano. Will they remember the exact title of the piece or the composer? Maybe, maybe not---one can only hope. At the very least, they will be aware, even if only subconsciously, of some great thematic material the next time they're having lots of fun playing a video game!
GRADES 6TH - 8TH
There can be some overlap of ideas in the outreach presentation to middle school aged kids, with a definite emphasis on entertaining and highly virtuosic music. At this age, they need to be "impressed;" so, in performing a short program for them, I will often select a composer like Franz Liszt, the "rock star" of his day, and incorporate some interesting and dramatic details about his personal life. They love the fact that someone like Liszt would probably have lit up social media, had it been around in those days! How does his music parallel his life? "Are there equally dramatic and interesting moments in the compositions", I will ask them. Is the acrobatic pianism cool? What about a fascinating composer like Alexander Scriabin, who even composed a beautiful piece for one hand, and crafted it so skillfully that it actually sounds like two hands? "Is this even possible", I challenge them. "Do you think I can do it?" During this interactive process, they learn...they hopefully will remember.
GRADES 9TH-12TH & COLLEGE
Many high school and college level students who have an interest in the performing arts have already reached a certain level of excellence and proficiency. Many, also, are involved not only in studying a particular solo instrument, but might also be involved in the band, orchestra, chorus, and/or theater. As a result, they may be very familiar and interested in melodies by a composer like Andrew Lloyd Webber. I will often include one of my crossover transcriptions in a short program for this level of students, and I will spend a lot of time with them engaged in a Q&A session. Some may even be contemplating a career in the performing arts, and they no doubt will have lots of questions to ask, and be searching for many answers. What's it like attending a school like The Juilliard School? How is life on the road as a touring concert artist? Do you really have to practice all of those hours? How do you handle the business of nerves? Is it possible to keep all of that repertoire memorized?
Students at this stage enjoy the interaction, and certainly want to "pick your brain", especially if this is a field they might be interested in pursuing themselves. It is very important to treat them as adults, and take their questions seriously; at this point in their lives, they are beginning to genuinely understand and respect concepts of hard work and discipline; how important it is that they realize that no matter what field they decide to pursue, those two elements, coupled with sacrifice and sense of priorities, are all paramount to achieving success.
It is so gratifying to give an outreach program the afternoon before the concert, or the morning of the concert day, and see a student with his/her family come through the reception line following the performance. When I hear the words, "Mr. Pandolfi, I loved the outreach program so much, I went home and told my parents about it; we just had to come back and hear more!" Words like that touch my heart and reinforce my own belief that even if I inspire only one student at any outreach program, then I have truly accomplished something worthwhile.