Yellow school buses were lined up outside Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in Richland Township on Tuesday morning, delivering fifth-graders from various school districts to a free Young People’s Concert performed by Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.
Inside the arts center, the noise level grew and seats filled to a full house as students prepared to hear the symphony orchestra, many for the first time.
“It’s an absolute delight we can reach so many schools,” said the symphony’s conductor, Maestro Istvan Jaray. “This is an important event in the life of the orchestra. I wish we could do it more.
“Arts enhance the spirit of young people. To deprive them of it is sad, so I think we should jump in and do it.”
The concert began with a rousing rendition of the “William Tell Overture,” which Jaray told his young audience was their way of saying hello.
“I’m having fun,” Jaray said. “I love to give children my joy with music. This is an opportunity to present the orchestra in a new light with no preconceived ideas.”
“It’s not dull, long-haired music. It shows the colors of the symphony. They need to realize it’s not something to dread, but to enjoy.”
Next came “The Thrill of the Orchestra,” narrated in rhyme by arts center executive director Michael Bodolosky.
The piece explained each section and instrument of the orchestra and how the conductor brought them all together.
As each instrument was mentioned, symphony members showed the youngsters where they were located and how their instruments simply could make noise or more magical music with practice.
Bodolosky went through the percussion, brass, woodwind and string sections, then had each section play its part in a song until the entire orchestra was playing.
His narration urged his audience to feel the thrill of music through the color of the orchestra.
“Why play in an orchestra? For the thrill music can provide. It can give you warmth, a chill or take you for a ride.”
Jaray then explained how music written without words is usually called a symphony and led the orchestra in a fast dance by the French composer Bizet.
A newer composition by a woman composer was next, and Jaray told his audience he hoped that if they composed something they would send it to him.
Another dance, “Hoedown,” came from American composer Aaron Copeland, and the composition “Waltzing Cat” showed the audience how a composer can describe felines and dogs in musical terms.
It was time for audience participation when the song “Pop Goes the Weasel” came up.
Jaray requested the youngsters shout “Pop Goes the Weasel” when he pointed to them, then asked if anyone would like to conduct the orchestra for that song.
Hands eagerly raised and waved, but Jaray announced he had one name written on a piece of paper.
Maeve Milligan of Westmont was asked to come forward and lead the orchestra.
After a brief demonstration on keeping time from Jaray, Maeve was conducting and the audience was shouting when Jaray pointed to them.
Jaray thought of the idea several years ago and thought it would be fun for the children.
“It’s good for them to see one of their own on stage,” Jaray said. “It’s a lifetime experience. This is a break for them. We try to make it as palatable as possible and keep the pieces short.”
For her efforts, Maeve received a conductor’s kit, which included a baton.
After the concert, Maeve said she had no idea she would be chosen to conduct.
“When I heard my name, I thought ‘What? What’s happening?’ I was very nervous,” Maeve said. “I never thought of conducting until now.”
Maeve started playing violin in third grade, flute in fifth and baritone horn in sixth and performs with her school’s orchestra and band.
“I loved it when they explained the instruments,” she said.
“I got to hear each one. I was at a Christmas concert, but this was my first time at this concert. It was most enjoyable.”
The concert ended with a “Star Wars Medley,” eliciting some light saber action from the audience.
As students filed out to their buses according to school district, volunteers prepared to do it all over again for a second concert.
“We had 10 schools for this concert and will have 10 more for the next one,” said Doris Lapinski, administrative assistant for the symphony. “They’re all fifth-graders except for Westmont, which is sixth. Because of funding cuts, they couldn’t come last year, so we had those who would have been in fifth grade last year. They are the exception.”