Outreach programs connect National Repertory Orchestra to Breckenridge and Summit County communities | SummitDaily.com

Outreach programs connect National Repertory Orchestra to Breckenridge and Summit County communities

On June 25, the National Repertory Orchestra presented the "Imagination Express" Children's Concert and the instrument petting zoo, where kids could try out instruments under the instruction of NRO musicians.
Lt. Randy Skelton / Salvation Army Aurora |

The Breckenridge-based National Repertory Orchestra has had quite a season. Throughout the beginning of August, the 88 NRO musicians, from violinists to percussionists to trombonists, presented several programs as part of the NRO’s Education and Community Engagement Program. The musicians performed at the Breckenridge library, Timberline Adult Day Services in Frisco, the Breckenridge Montessori School and the Breckenridge Hospital, among others. With the help of NRO guest clinicians Robert Franz and Deforia Lane, NRO musicians learned to connect with young children and adults alike, leaving each audience with a new perspective on classical music.

Imagination Express

The outreach program kicked off with “Imagination Express,” a concert especially for children, on June 25 at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center. Nicholas Hersh, NRO assistant conductor, introduced children of all ages to the “heroes” of the music world. He also introduced them to heroes of the animal world, with Bruce Adolphe’s “Carnival of the Creatures,” narrated by maestro Carl Topilow.

Four soloists — a bassoonist as the iguana, a flutist as the shrimp, a violinist as the spider and a French horn as the unicorn — came to the front of the orchestra to perform their roles. Some children even danced in the aisles of the Riverwalk Center as the French horn played the mystical melodies of the unicorn.

Hersh then led a question-and-answer session with the four soloists and the children in the audience, who asked questions such as, “How heavy is the French horn?” and “When are we going to be done?” Afterward, Hersh welcomed to the stage 10-year-old pianist Jonathan Xu, who performed the first movement, Allegro, from Mozart’s 11th Piano Concerto.

“This soloist may be the same age as some of you — or even younger!” Hersh said.

The young virtuoso then sat down at the piano — the audience sitting on the right side of the hall could barely see his face peeking out from the side of the piano — and performed the bubbly Mozart to thunderous applause. Hersh asked him a few questions after, such as, “Why did you want to play the piano?” to which the somewhat shy Xu said, “Because it’s complicated!” He practices for an hour and 30 minutes every day and has only been playing the piano for four years.

The concert concluded with Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s Conga Del Fuego Nuevo. When announcing the piece, Hersh said, “You’re going to want to get up out of your chairs for this one. I guarantee that each and every one of you is going to want to shake your rear ends.” The fiery piece indeed left every young audience member wriggling in his or her seat to the music, and when it ended, they leapt out their seats to take part in the instrument petting zoo.

Several violinists, cellists and trumpet players from the NRO offered kid-sized instruments for the children to try out, instructing them on how to make a sound on the instrument. Samantha Hessel, 9, said after playing the trumpet that she “loved it!” Yet her favorite instrument at the petting zoo was the viola, an unlikely instrument to be a top choice when compared to the flashy violin and trumpet.


Two outside clinicians worked with the National Repertory Orchestra in June: Deforia Lane, PhD, MT-BC, associate director of the Seidman Cancer Center and director of music therapy at University Hospitals of Cleveland; and Robert Franz, NRO conducting alumnus and arts education program creator. Lane and Franz presented seminars at the beginning of their clinics with the NRO and also instructed NRO musicians as they performed each outreach concert, providing feedback to the young musicians.

Lane, a classically trained vocalist and renowned music therapist, is a cancer survivor who demonstrates an outstanding ability to make connections with patients in hospitals and schools alike. Lane accompanied six NRO musicians — Danica Smith, Jessica Ryou, and Kyle Gilner, violin; Ying-Chen Tu, viola; Nick Bollinger, cello; and Emily Zacek, flute — to Timberline Adult Day Services in Frisco. They spent nearly three hours with adults who have special needs, showing music’s ability to nurture and heal each and every one of them.

The musicians took turns playing familiar tunes and held a contest for the participants to identify the songs. In almost no time, the participants recognized the songs and started to sing along. They lit up even further when they were given instruments to try for themselves; when initially they had trouble opening up to the musicians, they were soon reminiscing about their pasts and even showing the musicians pictures of their pets.

Franz was initially with the National Repertory Orchestra as the assistant conductor in 1997 and 1998. Since then, he has returned for several summers to work with the musicians of the National Repertory Orchestra on their educational outreaches throughout Summit County. He instructs them in selecting music that coincides with the lessons that children are currently learning in school or at home.

A group of five percussionists went to the Breckenridge library and demonstrated the importance of taking turns.

“When we play together, we’re a musical family, and we have to take turns, as well,” NRO percussionist Elliot Beck said. “For this piece, one person will be the important person, standing in the front playing the interesting part, and the others will be in the back, waiting to take their turn in the front.”

The percussionists’ diverse program included improvising rhythms on bongo and conga drums; a xylophone and marimba trio; and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round with the young kids in the audience.

Three groups of NRO musicians played for the students of the Breckenridge Montessori School: a brass quintet, woodwind quintet and string quintet. Each group played and talked about their instruments and what they did to play music together. Oboist Timothy Daniels bent down on his knees in front of the kids to show them his oboe up close and played an exemplary melody of the instrument for them. Afterward, the members of the string quintet asked the kids if they knew what made the string instruments’ sound. When the bassist explained that it was a bow made of horsehair, one little boy explained, “You mean horses make the noise?” Laughter from the musicians, Montessori teachers and students rang throughout the room; it was a moment to be remembered long after the last note of the outreach had sounded.

“I love that the NRO is able to encourage kids to explore themselves and their creativity through instrumental music,” said Emily Zacek, artistic and education intern for the National Repertory Orchestra. “Chances are there’s a future orchestra member in the audience at these events.”

Although the 2013 season has drawn to a close, the staff of the National Repertory Orchestra will be busy auditioning next year’s crop of talented young musicians during the coming winter. Opening night of the 2014 season is June 14.

For more information on the National Repertory Orchestra’s outreach programs, visit http://www.nromusic.com.

Amy Skjerseth is the marketing and public relations intern with the National Repertory Orchestra.

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