An adventure in music: Philharmonic annual concert entertains young and young-at-heart

With apologies to VH1, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Artistic Director David Bowden took more than 2,500 people, from youngsters to the young-at-heart, behind the music at the orchestra’s annual, free Adventure Concerts Tuesday morning.

There, audience members learned the finer points of everything from tubas to timpanis, from violins to violas.

The three, 40-minute educational events, among the nonprofit ensemble’s most popular offerings for years, brought together elementary school students, nursing home residents, and others from Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, Jennings, Shelby, Dearborn and Ohio counties. The wide-ranging audience at Columbus North High School’s Judson Erne Auditorium demonstrated the Philharmonic’s continuing, broad reach at a time when a number of the nation’s metro orchestras have made cuts or folded.

And it always seems perfectly fitting that Bowden and his musicians stick with their longtime, tried-and-true concert opener: John Williams’ “Star Wars Theme” in all its exultant glory.

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“I thought it was wonderful,” said John Reen, a local eighth grader who comes from a classical music family that has entertained all over the area. “It’s always great to see people involving children in music at such an early age.”

In the past, Reen also has been a cellist in the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra that also participated in Tuesday’s performances while its musicians were seated on stage next to the professional players.

But the concerts sponsored by the Columbus Rotary Club and the National Endowment for the Arts do more than inspire. One student who attended one of the events a few years ago took up clarinet — and already is competing in state music competition, according to Philharmonic staff.

“We want to share with you how wonderful it is to play a musical instrument,” Bowden said to the audience after the first number — and after playfully jousting with orchestra penguin-mascot Phil Harmonic, who appeared onstage with a Star Wars light saber.

The mascot actually was Southside Elementary School teacher Mark Yeaton, a local musician who has played the character for 25 years.

“A level of anonymity is a blessing as it allows Phil to do the shenanigans for the show,” Yeaton said afterward after being told that he earned among the largest ovations. “With the impaired vision of the costume, I never see the reactions of the audience.

“They sounded enthusiastic, and Phil feeds off that energy — and the backstage snack table.”

And some energy it was. Bowden used the bulk of the gatherings to introduce the audience to the orchestral sections and individual instruments, with no accurate help from mascot Phil, who referred to the strings as “the string cheese” and the woodwinds as “the lumber” while younger audience members laughed.

But when the percussion section piped up with a rather loud, over-the-top introduction of the bass drum, a segment of the crowd shrieked loudly. And when Bowden asked the crowd to imitate howitzers with cries of “Boom!” during Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known “1812 Overture,” they outdid themselves with thunderous shouts.

“It was really good,” said second grader Laura Hynes of the concert. She added that she now dreamed of learning to play the violin “because it’s so cool.”

It hardly hurt that concertmaster Daniel Aizenshtadt put the violins front and center near the beginning of the show. He played an abbreviated portion of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to demonstrate the instrument’s beauty.

And to send students on an adventure of discovery.

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The annual Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Adventure Concert series has been presented to area elementary school students — mostly third- and fourth-graders — since the 1988-89 season, providing a first-time music and concert experience for many of the participants.

Children and educators from a number of schools in south-central Indiana participate in the annual Adventure Concert series of programs and events. Philharmonic musicians visit area schools, bringing an interactive experience to approximately 1,600 students.