By Janice Jarrett
THERE IS NO child, except a very rare one with some organic deficiency, who will not respond to music," observed New York Times music critic Howard Taubman, an early media advocate of Young Audiences, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing music and culture directly into the lives of American children.
Begun in the 1950s on the East Coast, Young Audiences has expanded geographically and numerically through the decades: last year 50,000 programs benefited six million kids. For a great many American children their very first encounter with a live musician, actor, storyteller, visual artist or dancer has been through Young Audiences.
The idea of bringing professional musicians and other artists into the schools to relate specifically to the young was obviously an idea wholly embraced by educators, parents, and especially children. As YA's 1982 annual report states: "Nothing quite as intimate in the way of communication in the arts has ever been achieved on such a scale."
That intimacy achieves in each experience a significant number of benefits. We already know involvement in music and the arts increases children's higher-order thinking and motor skills, self-expression and problem-solving ability.
But when you see the actual effect of these workshops, where children not only come to hear and see a performance but end up participating in it, you begin to see the power of teaming quality artists with young minds and hearts. This is nothing like MTV. This is live.
Over and over again, according to Tucson YA Executive Director, Elaine Tygiel, the children's questions and enthusiasm at the end of each YA presentation reconfirm a tremendous impact. "How long did it take you to play like that?" "When did you start?" The children want to see and touch the instruments and the musicians themselves. They are eager to learn about the artists and their lives. They can see how happy the musicians are playing and talking about their work.
The love, the passion musicians feel for their art and the sheer mastery they display excite and inspire the children. Their accessibility to the children create an incredible environment for learning.
And kids can easily relate to a musician turning over a metal kitchen bowl and using it as a drum, or learning how to make music using their bodies, as YA artist Will Clipman shows them.
The Heavy Metal Brass Band makes animal sounds with their instruments to accompany a story about a heroic elephant; Denise Bey uses masks, dance and African music to magically transform herself into different characters. In all these up-close, dynamic encounters the artists have come into the world the children already inhabit, a world of imagination and freedom, openness and creativity.
Drawing upon local and national talent, Young Audiences of Southern Arizona has been a vital resource for thousands of children since 1971. And when the barely 10-year-old Imagination Celebration sponsored by the Kennedy Center downsized in 1991, Tucson's dedicated children's advocates found a way to continue funding their spectacular version of the Imagination Celebration, Step into the Arts.
In this amazing day-long festival, this year scheduled for Saturday, March 25, at the Tucson Convention Center Leo Rich Theatre, Music Hall and Outdoor Plaza, kids will get a chance to choose from ethnically and artistically diverse performances, workshops and art stations providing a staggering number of opportunities for creative involvement. The entire festival day is free.
March is Youth Art Month, leading up to March 25's Step Into the Arts. The sheer number and diversity of organizations involved in these special events demonstrates another fundamental ambition of YA--that of consolidating and coordinating community resources to benefit children.
Saturday, March 4, the Tucson Arts District Partnership (624-9977 or 622-5179), Downtown Saturday Nights sponsor, offers a music and dance workshop, Tribal Industrial Theatre, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Mr. Stew and Drumsong, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (792-9155) presents monthly Just for Kids concerts. March's special musical presentation, "Out West," on March 4, ends with a musical dramatization of Susan Lowell's children's book, The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit.
The Tucson Junior Strings will also perform March 4 at the Tucson Museum of Art Annex to open a citywide children's art exhibit, Celebrations of Form and Color, that runs through the end of the month.
The schedule for March 25 at the TCC is daunting--including the Tucson Symphony performance of Peter and the Wolf; Childsplay, Inc., a Tempe-based professional theatre company, performing a special version of In My Grandmother's Purse; and the "Manic Hispanic" from KHOT Radio, with guests Julie Gallegos and Folklorico and Etc. Dance Company, performing Mexican-American traditional and contemporary music and dance.
Other performers include the Pastime Players, the Arizona Children's Choir, the Tucson's Girls Chorus, the Tucson High School Steel Drum Band, and the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc.
Fine Stream Gamelan, Tucson's own Indonesian music ensemble, will cap the day's event with a processional march around the plaza before the closing ceremonies.
Each year, Young Audiences has to recreate its funding base, relying upon a combination of funds from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Tucson Pima Arts Council (both supported by the National Endowment for the Arts), private and corporate donations and fundraising events. Only through staunch determination are they able to bring these diverse and incomparable benefits to our children.
For details on scheduling or to offer your support, give YA a call at 624-5997.
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