When a big noise echoes through the room, the only thing for a curious boy to do is investigate it.
Teddy, the main character in the musical story “The Big Note,” starts his quest to find out what that loud sound was. He explores a symphony orchestra, crawling under the chairs of a viola player, a flutist and other musicians.
Well-known music by composers such as Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and John Philip Sousa accompany him on his journey.
Story continues below gallery
From the mind of violinist Victoria Griswold, a magical wonderland materializes out of music and motion.
“There are people I play with in the orchestra who, at a young age, they saw the instrument they now play. They just knew when they saw it that’s what they were going to do,” she said. “I hope to introduce these instruments, and hopefully it will result in future musicians or concert-goers. If you’re not introduced to your passion, you’ll never know what it is.”
Griswold and other members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra are bringing music and stories catered specifically to children to Johnson County this spring. The Teddy Bear concert series is a kid-friendly program featuring small ensembles of five musicians performing special programs aimed at preschool and kindergarten-aged children.
Participants and their families are encouraged to follow along with original stories that implement familiar orchestral pieces with movement and play-acting.
“Our main goal is to give young children excellent experiences in music. We want to introduce them to the instruments of the orchestra,” said Megan Masterman, program coordinator for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Learning Community. “We want to give them a taste of high-quality musicians and one of their first experiences with music in a live setting that excites them and engages them, to really set the fire to begin loving music.”
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra started the Teddy Bear series in 2014, growing out of an existing early childhood education program. The first year, the concerts revolved around an original story, “The Giant’s Violin,” a story created by Griswold.
“My vision is to introduce children to the music and instruments of the symphony orchestra through movement, original stories and live music performed by some of the world’s best musicians,” she said. “These 3- to 6-year-olds get to hear high-level music in a fun setting, designed just for them.”
Since that time, Griswold has written a number of other stories to be used in the concerts. “The Garden Symphony” follows a ladybug’s search through a garden for her own special song.
Children could help the ladybug by dancing and making different movements, adding another layer of connection with the music, Griswold said.
“The Big Note” was inspired by the daughter of one of the other Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians that performs the Teddy Bear concerts. Griswold noticed how curious and investigative she was, and based her character on that quality.
With a story in mind, she developed movements and dance moves that corresponded to the music that was being performed. Griswold chose pieces such as the “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini and “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov, where the children make bee shapes with their fingers.
“I like to use music that is widely known, so that’s always fun,” she said.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra scheduled four concerts in the Johnson County Public Library in March and April. The first one, at the Trafalgar branch, featured Griswold’s story “Monkey’s Jungle Jam.”
Children and their parents followed a spider monkey’s search through the rainforest for musical friends, where they hopped like frogs, roared like lions and swayed like tress to the rhythm and melody of the symphony orchestra.
Another program, “The Giant’s Violin,” centered on the adventures of a young child who discovered a giant musical instrument in his attic.
At the end of the shows, the children have not only heard different types of orchestral music, but get to try playing some of the instruments with the help of the symphony musicians, Griswold said.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has built a regular following at special concerts and programs in Johnson County over the past five years.
The 317 series featured full-orchestra shows at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, Center Grove High School and Mallow Run Winery, in addition to being involved with schools and other programs.
Coming to different communities — particularly playing in libraries — allows for greater outreach and greater access to new audiences, Masterman said.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is that sometimes people feel alienated, that we’re not for them. That’s so sad, because there’s this really cool world of music,” she said. “If we can reach out to them as young children and introduce them to this world of instrumental music, show them how much joy it brings us, they might get enjoyment from it as well.”
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Teddy Bear concerts
What: Special concerts put on by an ensemble of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra members, geared towards preschool- and kindergarten-age children.
How does it work?: Children will watch an original story unfold, as orchestra members lead them through different pieces of familiar orchestral music and movements to correspond to each one.
Where: Johnson County Public Library branches
- Saturday: “The Big Note,” 11 a.m., Franklin branch, 401 State St.
- March 24: “The Big Note,” 11 a.m., White River branch, 1664 Library Blvd., Greenwood
- April 28: “The Giant’s Violin,” 11 a.m., Clark Pleasant branch, 530 Tracy Road, Suite 250, New Whiteland