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Kids, Hippos and the Bassoon

For some families, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's children's performances are a way of life.

"The youngest person to come to a Just for Kids concert was a newborn whose parents brought him on the way home from the hospital," said Shawn Campbell, director of education and community engagement for the orchestra.

Both Campbell and her husband, trombone player Michael Becker, plan and participate in Just for Kids concerts, interactive performances that showcase the TSO's multiple ensembles.

"It's designed for a family to go to," Campbell said. "In the past, the percussionist group has gotten the audience clapping and marching around the room."

While Campbell won't go into detail about what audience participation may be included in the upcoming Just for Kids concert, she does promise that the brass quintet, featuring her husband, will captivate the audience in Kalimba-kee, the story of a young elephant.

Becker, with the help of his trombone, plays Kalonga, a hippopotamus and Kalimba-kee's best friend. When Kalonga and Kalimba-kee encounter hunters at their watering hole, the youthful animals devise a plan and succeed in capturing the humans. After deliberating, the elephant and hippo bring the hunters to the King of the Elephants, a wise animal who decides the humans' ultimate fate.

"It's great fun to watch the kids and their parents, because you see all this discovery on both the child and the parents' faces alike," Campbell said. "It's hard for kids to sit still sometimes, because they get so excited by the music, and hearing and feeling the sound so close."

With only five members on stage for the duration of the performance, musicians double as both characters and narrators. Campbell compares Kalimba-kee to a movie soundtrack: It has both spoken-word and music.

"When you go to a movie, you may not even realize it, but the music itself is creating the mood, like setting up a scene," said Campbell. "That's what happens in movies, opera and in this performance."

What kind of music will set the mood for Kalimba-kee? Visions of royalty and red carpet come to mind when Becker hums 20th Century Fox's dramatic theme song.

Becker--who began playing the trombone as an 11-year-old--said the infamous 20th Century Fox theme song is an example of a popular brass composition: a fanfare. The fanfare will be featured a number of times in Kalimba-kee.

"When you're up there on stage, you really get an idea of whether you're being effective or not," Becker said. "We've included the fanfare because it is loud, has a lot of movement and grabs your attention."

That's just what Becker intends to do: capture the excitement of children, some of whom are too young to attend school. Before and after Just for Kids concerts, Becker invites children to come onstage to observe the instruments up close.

"Oftentimes, kids will ask me to put their hands on the instrument," Becker said. "I'll play, and they'll feel the vibrations, and it's really interesting to see their reaction as the horn is vibrating."

According to Becker and Campbell, the Just for Kids concerts have sparked more than one child's interest in learning to play an instrument.

"One child who attended a performance several years ago fell in love with the bassoon so much--who knows why?--and he decided he wanted to play the bassoon," said Becker. "He waited until he could begin years later. He didn't forget, and now he studies under the Tucson Symphony's bassoonist. He's really quite good."

Although Campbell and Becker acknowledge that not all children go on to play instruments, both agree that Just for Kids concerts benefit children's developmental skills.

"Music really helps people of all ages use their imaginations, and that's a very beneficial thing. It develops creativity and problem-solving skills. That's one reason why the Tucson Symphony Orchestra is so committed to our education program," Campbell said.

The brass quintet will play music before and after Kalimba-kee. All children are invited to dress as their favorite African animal for the performance.

Tucson Symphony Orchestra's January Just for Kids concert, Kalimba-kee, will take place at the Tucson Symphony Center, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., on Saturday, Jan. 3, at 10 a.m. and again at 11:15 a.m. Admission is a suggested $2 per person donation. Just for Kids concerts occur the first Saturday of each month from October through April. For more information, call the Tucson Symphony Orchestra box office at 882-8585, or visit the TSO Web site.

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