What has 100-plus arms and 100-plus legs and sings in three-part harmony? Stumped? Need another clue? What bows and blows and bangs seventy-two instruments simultaneously and also sings silly, and not so silly, songs?

Give up? It’s the Ann Arbor Symphony and the Chenille Sisters presenting Allegro & Animal Crackers, a concert for kids and families, at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, November 5.

More than — or should I say less than? — most vocal trios, the Chenille Sisters don’t need much accompaniment. Anyone familiar with their shows knows they’re worth tracking to Acapulco just to hear them sing a cappella. Cheryl Dawdy, Connie Huber, and Grace Morand’s voices are tailor made for weaving tight, seamless harmonies and for spinning out musically gorgeous gems. But jewels sparkle even brighter in perfect settings — and the Ann Arbor Symphony knows how to add a shine to any music it touches.

Ann Arbor’s homespun harmony and comedy queens have been playing concerts for more than twenty years, have made nearly a dozen recordings — three of them especially for their younger fans — and have created an Emmy-winning video, a songbook, and an illustrated storybook for kids. They have performed with many orchestras throughout the United States and Canada, including of course the Ann Arbor Symphony, but this will be their first kid show with the AASO.

You can count on some staples from the Sisters’ solo kid shows, favorites such as the “Hokey Pokey” dance-along and the “Kitchen Percussion Song,” where they form an additional orchestra by inviting a handful of their young fans on stage to make music with them on everything but the kitchen sink. Of course, they’ll also do the “Harmony Song” and teach how to sing their trademark three-part harmonies. Talk about learning at the feet of the masters!

And speaking of learning, the Chenilles are not about dry educational songs or message songs. There’ll be no MEAP material presented from the stage of the Michigan, thank goodness. But that does not mean that kids won’t learn, or that they won’t pay close attention. For example, contrary to classical custom, the Chenilles stand on stage left, in front of the cellos, rather than in the more typical spot for soloists, on the right side, in front of the violins. So the tips of the cello bows sometimes seem to point perilously close to the Chenille Sisters’ . . . leading an observant young fan to ask after a concert, “Has anybody ever bowed you in the butt?” (The answer, happily, was no.)

What the kids will clearly see and learn from the Chenilles and the AASO, besides that cello bows and cellists are safe, is that making and listening to music is joyful, uplifting, and downright fun.

[Review published November 2006]