The Toyota Symphonies for Youth


If you’ve longed to attend a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with your children, but worry that they might wiggle uncontrollably or fall asleep by intermission, we have good news. The folks at the Los Angeles Philharmonic have come up with a clever series of concerts, The Toyota Symphonies for Youth, that welcomes kids into the incredible concert hall, and allows them to learn about music and the people who make and play it.

The LA Phil approached each potential pitfall as a creative challenge: Think the concert might be too long? How about we make it just an hour. Think the kids won’t have a clue what the music is about? How about we hire actors to act out a story that provides humorous context for the music. Think you might still have a hard time conveying the storyline to the kids? How about an hour-long series of art and music projects, staged on the roof before the concert, to engage the imagination of every child. The result is a seamless two hour adventure which is pure pleasure – for parents and for kids.

All this and a pre-concert art project to engage kids in the concert’s theme? We can’t believe there are any empty seats in the spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall. Grab tickets for the remainder of the year’s concerts now:

The Firebird (Igor Stravinsky) on December 1 and December 8

The Composer is Dead (Nathaniel Stookey, text by Lemony Snicket) on January 26 and February 2

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky) on April 13 and April 20

Here are notes from the first concert of the 2012-2013 season, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, which was an ideal introduction to the language of music. In fact, the actress Rose Portillo, who played a Storyteller who speaks animatedly to the audience, starts by reading a book but discards it in frustration for she is sure that words cannot possibly do justice to the feelings of the stories she wants to share. A large oafish creature wakes from his hiding place under the stairs, and the endearing character (played by Adam Kern) roars and threatens to eat all the children in the audience but in fact only wants to discover who he is and how he fits into the Mother Goose fairy-tales.  When pianist Joanne Pearce Martin explains that she can sketch a story with her keyboard, the Storyteller quickly adds that an orchestra can fill out the remainder of the story and the Creature booms out in his loud voice that we should bring the orchestra to the stage – he’s willing to pay them in gold pieces – and the Storyteller gleefully names each part of the large group (the “Percussion Family”, the “String Family”).

Triumphantly, the Los Angeles Philharmonic takes the stage, and proceeds to explore Ravel’s music, starting with the dulcet tones of a Sleeping Beauty story (the Creature falls asleep and starts to snore on stage), and continues by exploring the general story lines of Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast. The emotions of the classic tales are explained by the exuberant Storyteller, who asks the audience to sing out tones or answer her questions about the confused Creature. Lovely pieces of Ravel’s music are played for the audience, and kids generally wound up sitting still in their seats for these short stretches of music because they were entertained by the action on the stage, which explained a little bit about the composer’s life and influences and a lot about hos the orchestra gets the audience to feel emotion.

The program is quick and chock-full of details – within an hour, it was all wound up and happy kids trailed their parents out into the lobby of the incredible building. Since it was Saturday and since the weather was ideal, several families poured out onto the Concert Hall’s lovely upstairs garden and we can only imagine that a few found the hidden steps that lead up into the silver wings and arches of the building – where anyone can explore at their leisure…. and should!