When Columbus Symphony concertmaster Joanna Frankel talks about the organization’s “crown jewel” she is not referring to the opulent Ohio Theater, where the organization holds most of the concerts. or to a cherished musical instrument; or even a favorite piece in the classical repertoire.
Instead, Frankel talks about the symphony’s music education programs.
“The Columbus Symphony hangs its hat on it – it really tries to give children that value,” said Frankel.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Symphony officials say their educational programs will have reached more than 50,000 children in central Ohio by the end of the 2020-21 season.
Over the past year, these programs have included outdoor and online concerts aimed at young audiences. Several new initiatives were also taken this year, including a virtual music education curriculum for third graders at Columbus City Schools and the launch of a pair of youth-oriented websites. CSOkidskorner.com and symphonicteens.com.
“We are very happy about our contact with young people”, said Denise Rehg, the director of the symphony. “When we get out of COVID, we have really big plans.”
To support current and future youth programs, the symphony is offering an online benefit this week. From March 8th to 13th, the 45-minute “Columbus Symphony Cares About Kids Virtual Benefit” with music and interviews with regional children and educators about symphony programs can be viewed from today until Saturday columbussymphony.com. Donations can also be made through the website.
Hosted by Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, the event will have two musical components: an earlier recording of a performance by the symphony of a work by the black composer George Walker and a recent recording of JS Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins “Frankel and the Symphony’s 2020 Young Musicians Competition winner, Cecilia Martin, a senior from Bexley High School, along with symphony pianist Caroline Hong.
During a year without a pandemic, the symphony would hold a personal benefit concert, but since most of the money raised comes from donations and sponsorship anyway, symphony officials don’t expect a decline in support, Rehg said.
And since the symphony’s 47 full-time musicians had already agreed in their contracts to rehearse and perform a benefit concert without payment, they agreed to donate a comparable amount of time during the week to charitable efforts for children in the region.
“Since we haven’t actually been able to play the concert this year, they’re going to be mentoring kids across central Ohio through Zoom, etc.,” Rehg said.
Some musicians will act as judges for auditions for the Columbus All City Orchestra – one of five youth ensembles that continued the symphony during the pandemic – while others will hold virtual sessions with local music students.
For example, Frankel will conduct a virtual one-on-one coaching session with a seventh grader.
“A lot of teachers feel like … you don’t really hear the real sound,” Frankel said of working with students on Zoom. “But for me it’s not really that problematic because there is just so much to do. … I think it’s a fantastic way to connect with people and offer something. “
Since the symphony guides are looking forward to a return to more normal concert offers in autumn, the young audience continues to have a high priority: During the not yet announced season of the Masterworks concerts 2021-22, all children between 6 and 16 years of age will be admitted at no cost. Free tickets for next season’s youth concerts will also be made available to primary school students in the Title 1 area.
“We’re going to call it the year of breaking down barriers for our children,” said Rehg, who came up with the idea after recent limited-capacity concerts at the Ohio Theater. She noted that there were families with children who were drawn to the symphony as a rare family-friendly activity during the pandemic.
“It got us thinking – I mean, we have a big hall,” said Rehg. “(The ticket price) is an obstacle for parents and children.”
For Frankel, the expected increase in the number of young Central Ohio residents means that they and their colleagues have to be in top form.
“I think that makes our responsibility even bigger to really convince these masterpieces and to present them honestly,” said Frankel. “I think it really gets a little better.”
At a glance
The free program “Columbus Symphony takes care of the virtual benefit of children” can be viewed from Monday to Saturday columbussymphony.com.