Monday, June 25, 2018

Musical Petting Zoo

Image of an orchestra playing
This is a program I have wanted to do for literally years and with our Libraries Rock summer reading theme this year, this was the summer to do it: a musical petting zoo. I was inspired by Anna's awesome marching band storytime (a post from 2013, so you can tell how long this has been percolating!) because band was one of the great loves of my life as a kid. I wanted to present a program that might inspire young kids to want to pick up an instrument.

First, I needed a partner. My first choice was to recruit teen volunteers because I wanted to give teens a chance to show their talents and talk to younger people about their music. Teens learn so much from opportunities where they can teach and lead others, so I knew I had the opportunity to make this program a double-whammy: a learning experience for young children and a leadership experience for teens. I didn't really have any connections to the music programs in my local schools, so I started with some cold emailing. Luckily, I hit the jackpot and our local high school orchestra teacher was excited to bring some of her students in for the program.

In addition to the orchestra students, I was able to recruit adult volunteers to play the harp and accordion (!!) and a staff member who plays the trumpet. I also brought in a few instruments that I play (with wildly varying levels of expertise): a flute, a piccolo, a guitar, and a ukulele. You don't have to actually play instruments yourself to make this program happen. Many musicians are happy to demonstrate their talents to inspire future generations of musicians.

If I hadn't hit the jackpot with my high school volunteers, I next would have reached out to local community orchestras (we have a couple around here), college music programs, or local music stores. You can even put the call out to your colleagues, Board members, and Friends of the Library. Many more people play or own instruments than you might expect!

Here's what we did at the program:

The orchestra kids had just finished up a week of "summer strings" and had some pieces they could play for us, so we started with them playing a few songs so the attendees could hear how the instruments sound playing together. Then I asked each of the kids and volunteers to talk a little bit about their instrument and play a little scale or something so we could hear what the instruments sound like on their own.

After we'd gone through all the instruments we had, I told the audience it was time for the "petting zoo" part of the program. They could come see the instruments up close, touch them or play them if it was okay with each musician, and ask any questions. I also put out a box of student rhythm instruments (triangles, tambourines, etc.) that we had as part of our storytime props.

I learned a ton at this program, too! I had never actually seen a harp up close and Ms. L showed me what the pedals are for and how she tunes it. Mr. T showed us the inside of his accordion so we could see what hitting the keys does.

I had intended to read some books at the program and had pulled Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Simon & Schuster, 1995) and The Remarkable Farkle McBride by Jon Lithgow, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, 2003), but with the way our audience trickled in there wasn't really a great opportunity to do that. I did pull a book display with titles our families could check out afterwards. I had also thought about pulling some teen books that would appeal to musicians and doing some brief booktalks for them, but I wasn't sure how many kids would be coming, so I skipped this. I would definitely add it next time because I think I had some teens who would have been into it.

Both attendees and volunteers had a great time and we had a nice turnout, which is especially pleasing on a Saturday for us. There were a lot of in-depth conversations happening about different instruments and I hope that more kids will now be inspired to pick up an instrument or take music classes when they have the chance.