BGSU orchestra takes students on tour of ‘The Planets’

Emily Freeman Brown conducts "The Planets" for audience of students.


BG Independent News

Students from local schools filled Kobacker Hall on the Bowling Green State University campus Thursday morning. They’d been invited by conductor Emily Freeman Brown to go on a journey through Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”
Given the number of people, a few coughs were inevitable as Brown and the orchestra took them on a musical tour of the solar system and along the way introduced them to the ancient deities who lent their names to the planets.
BGPHIL harps PlanetsThen came the last movement of the piece, Neptune, the god of mystery. “We’ll have some secret visitors,” Brown told the audience before the movement began. “Listen carefully.”
And as the piece neared its conclusion, high, soft voices were softly heard offstage, ghostly, wafting over the orchestra. By the end, only the voices were heard. No violins. No harps. No brass, percussion nor woodwinds. No coughs. Hundreds of children silent as the music faded away.
“That response is proof that we’re doing something good,” the conductor said after the performance. Sharing music “is fundamental to human nature.”
This was not the first time Brown has led the orchestra in a performance of “The Planets” for a young audience. She did it back in 1992. Those kids would be old enough to have children of their own.
How the university has presented young people’s shows has changed over the years. Brown’s first endeavor in 1991 was a trimmed down version of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” For a number of years, the College of Music presented Saturday morning programs modeled after Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. But attendance at those Saturday morning events had dwindled to the point there were more people on stage than in the audience.
In 2014, the university offered a weekday matinee show of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the Christmas opera by Gian Carlo Menotti.
Now with “The Planets,” the offerings come full circle. “I wanted to give them an experience that’s really different. Something they’d remember,” Brown said.
She wants expose them to the idea of attending an orchestra concert. At the beginning Brown had each section of musicians stand up and display their instruments to the students, “so they would have a sense of real people with real instruments.”
Brown said she hears all the time from college music students about experiences they had when they were younger that helped fostered their love of music.
For all the technological innovations, “there’s still nothing like the live concert experience, the acoustics, the sounds, the visceral energy in the hall,” the conductor said.
Brown said she intentionally scheduled the concert on the Thursday before spring break when students would be distracted and a little antsy and teachers may want an activity to occupy them. Once the music started, the students were all ears.
After the concert, Brown went into the lobby as the students filed out of Moore Musical Arts Center. Not quiet now, they were chattering away as she greeted them. She did have a serious discussion with one student from St. Aloysius who turned her question back to her. What was the conductor’s favorite movement? Well, she said, what she liked was all the contrast in the piece. But, the boy said, he noticed some of the melodies repeated and the harmonies were the same. The musicological analysis came to an end when he was ushered to the waiting school bus.