EARQUAKE!, in it's tenth year, presented a seismic synthesis of music and media to almost 3,000 sixth-grade students from 44 schools in the Fort Smith area and Eastern Oklahoma areas on Monday (Feb. 6).
The Fort Smith Symphony performed two hour-long concerts at the Arkansas Best Corporation Performing Arts Center in an effort to introduce children to the wonders and benefits of classical music on a level they would understand.
"Doing a lot of sedate baroque music is not the way to do it," said Fort Smith Symphony Music Director and Conductor John Jeter.
Most of the music is loud and fast hence the name EARQUAKE!
Selections for EARQUAKE! were: "Pirates of the Caribbean" by Hans Zimmer; "Cello Concerto No. 1 (movement III)" by Dmitri Kabalevsky; "Alchemy" by Max Shuhan; "Hoe-Down from the ballet "Rodeo" by Aaron Copland; "Symphony No. 9 (movement IV)" by Antonin Dvořák; and "William Tell Overture" by Gioachino Rossini.
Many of the pieces were chosen because of their familiarity. They have been featured in movies, commercials or other media permeating popular culture.
Prior to each selection, Jeter introduced the instruments based on classification; strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Laughs and applause were divulged after some of the musicians demoed their instruments with kid-friendly sonic snippets. For example: the viola section played a bit of Lady Gaga and the clarinets played the theme from the video game Super Mario Bros.
Another tool to reach out to a young audience that watches a lot of television is the inclusion of a live video production, edited on-the-fly, by a crew from 5-Star Productions. This was projected on two big screens and provided a closer look at orchestra members performing.
The concert is not a recruitment tool per se for the symphony but the targeted audience, sixth-grade students, is carefully chosen since participation in band begins in seventh grade.
"There's a lot of non-musical reasons why music is good," Jeter added in reference to the ancillary skills playing a musical instrument provides. These include communication, teamwork, practice, patience and persistence to name a few — all good qualities to have throughout one's life.
"In many respects, it's the most important concert that we do. We love doing our subscription concerts, we love it, but this is helping students; hopefully creating a life-long interest in music," Jeter said.
Prior to EARQUAKE!, a study guide, information on the selected composers and a recording of some of the music from the concert was provided to teachers to use as a lesson in their classes. In essence, the whole experience of EARQUAKE! is a cleverly disguised educational tool presented in a fun manner that will appeal to children.
Guest composer Max Shuhan, 14, wrote "Alchemy," his fourth composition, as a commissioned piece for EARQUAKE! Shuhan, the son of musicians Elizabeth and Alex Shuhan, began playing piano at age 6. He wrote his first piece for orchestra titled "Symphony No. 1" in the fifth grade. His mother and father, formerly of Fayetteville, continue to play for the Fort Smith Symphony although the family resides in Ithaca, NY.
"Alchemy" was inspired by the book "The Alchemist" which he was reading in September 2010 when Jeter approached him about composing an arrangement for EARQUAKE! Much like an alchemist, Shuhan has taken notes, fairly worthless alone, and transformed them into precious material through musical arrangement. He said he also drew inspiration from composers John Williams and Hans Zimmer who he was listening to at the time of writing "Alchemy."
EARQUAKE! also featured guest cello soloist Angelika Machnik-Jones of Oklahoma City and dancers from the Western Arkansas Ballet.