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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 29, 200912:00 PM EST

Symphony hosts students for annual educational program

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Q: Why has the south end of Hogan Street looked like a parking lot for big yellow school buses all week?

A: That’s what it takes to bring about 12,000 Duval County Public Schools students to Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center.

The youngsters, all 4th- and 5th-graders, were on field trips Downtown to attend the Weaver Family Foundation Student Education Series, an annual event that allows them to experience classical music in one of the finest concert halls in the nation.

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Manager of Education and Community Programs Tony Kamnikar.

“Symphonic music is fine art and it’s important to share the experience with youth in the community,” said Tony Kamnikar, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s new manager of education and community programs. He came to Jacksonville this week from Fort Wayne, Ind. where he held a similar position with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

The Student Education Series is just a small part of the symphony’s educational outreach programs. There’s a young people’s concert series each spring for 2nd- and 3rd-graders who also take field trips to Jacoby Hall and an ensemble program that performs in schools, taking the music to the students. Each December, about 8,000 students are invited to performances of the First Coast Nutcracker. For young musicians, the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra enrolls more than 200 students in six ensemble levels. All told, more than 70,000 public school students are exposed to classical music each year through the symphony’s variety of educational initiatives.

The selection of music is chosen to appeal to classical music neophytes with short attention spans. This year, guest conductor Fawzi Haimor from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University brought his “Music of the World” program titled, “Mission Impossible! The Case of the Stolen Tuba” to the young audience.

After the orchestra performed the well-known theme song, it was apparent many of the youngsters, particularly those who were hearing a live orchestra for the first time, were more confident their experience would be enjoyable. Then Haimor took the audience on a trip around the world through symphonic music in search of the tuba thief. Selections included Mozart’s “Overture to the Marriage of Figaro” from Austria, Rossini’s “Overture to the Barber of Seville” from Italy, Gershwin’s “An American in Paris Suite” from America, Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 6” from Hungary and Tchaikovsky’s 4th movement from Symphony No. 2 from the Ukraine.

The “core orchestra” of the Jacksonville Symphony is made up of about 50 musicians. For Masterworks Series concerts the full orchestra with as many as 80 musicians is on the stage.

Prior to the concert series, the Jacksonville Symphony Association provided a teacher’s guide for educators that suggested discussion topics about each piece of music and its place in the world of the classics. The guide also offered short biographies of each composer and an overview of proper etiquette when attending a live symphony performance.

Paul Witkowski, director of public relations, said providing special programs for the younger members of the community has been a Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra tradition since the organization was founded six decades ago.

“If you’re under the age of 60 and grew up in Jacksonville, you probably saw the orchestra perform when you were a child,” he added.

Making classical music accessible to young people no doubt helps develop the future audience and subscriber base for the symphony, but that’s not the main thrust behind the Student Education Series.

“One of our missions is to share classical music with youth,” said Kamnikar. “Some of them embrace it immediately and some don’t but all of the students benefit from the experience. It also expands appreciation for the arts throughout the community.”

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