Last November I took my nine-year-old daughter to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's family concerts, Tchaikovsky Discovers America. After the show we ran into one of her schoolmates. The boy's dad told me that when the actor portraying Tchaikovsky made his first entrance, his eight-year-old son whispered in awe, "Is that the real Tchaikovsky?"
AASO conductor Arie Lipsky tells a similar story. Lipsky made his orchestral debut at age nine, playing flute in the Haifa Symphony in Israel. That day the orchestra played a piece by the nineteenth-century composer Borodin. At the end of the concert, when the conductor brought out the director of the chorus to take a bow, Lipsky turned to his standmate and asked, "Is this Borodin?" Lipsky, a prodigy with very adult musical skills, was still filled with childlike wonder. Today, decades later, he retains both qualities, as well as a passionate commitment to fostering them in children.
When Lipsky arrived as conductor, five years ago, one of his stated goals was to expand the symphony's offerings to young people and families. Bucking the recent trend at many orchestras, where such programming has been cut in response to tight budgets, Lipsky has added concerts.
My daughter still talks about the Beethoven Lives Upstairs show two years ago, when the actors flung hundreds of pages of music manuscripts in the air, and we watched them float down toward us like giant confetti. Recalling the magnificent collage of sound of this terrific orchestra, we still hum snatches of the Minuet in G and "Ode to Joy."
We also remember how Lipsky, in a program of international dances, invited the audience to waltz to "The Blue Danube." "Shall we?" I asked my wife. She vigorously shook her head. I looked at our daughter. She was heading for the aisle. We waltzed, along with dozens of others.
My fondest memory, though, came after one of the concerts, when I caught my daughter in front of a full-length mirror conducting her own imaginary orchestra. I could tell it sounded like the Ann Arbor Symphony — very, very good.
We're looking forward to the 2004-2005 season of four family concerts, which opens Sunday, November 21, with the magical storytelling of The Arabian Nights. Don't forget to come early — one of the best parts of the family concerts, the instrument petting zoo, happens in the lobby of the Michigan Theater even before the orchestra tunes up. If your child has never held an instrument before, you may want to bring a camera. You'll want to record the expression on your son's face when he draws a bow across the strings of a cello three times his size. Or the look on your daughter's face the first time she gets a note out of a trumpet.