By Jenny Neyman
Step aside, Carnegie Hall. The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Link Up program took center stage.
“It is a very education, fun concert. Every year we seem to do a little bit more and more. This year we’ve got 10 schools participating, which us the most ever,” said Tammy Vollom-Matturro, artistic director for the orchestra and coordinator for the Link Up concerts in Homer on Friday and Kenai on Saturday.
The program is a collaboration with Kenai Peninsula Borough schools, with students in third, fourth and fifth grades performing live onstage with the orchestra.
Link Up is put together by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which provides the music, teacher guides, student materials and a slideshow to be played during the concert. Partner orchestras and schools across the country and around the world participate, including a giant concert at Carnegie Hall itself, which usually kicks off the program.
Except for this year, where the honor went to the Kenai Peninsula.
“I got a phone call from a lady from Carnegie Hall and she said, ‘You guys are the world premiere of The Orchestra Rocks.’ And I went, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, we usually premier the concerts in Carnegie Hall first.’ But they love what the Kenai Peninsula does with the Link Up program and they’re letting us premiere it first,” Vollom-Matturro said.
The orchestra also recently received the Alaska Music Advocate of the Year Award from the Alaska Music Educators Association, in part for the Link Up program.
“We support music education. It’s in our mission statement, to do education, so we do a lot of stuff that includes kids,” Vollom-Matturro said.
This year’s Link Up curriculum is called “The Orchestra Rocks” and includes a variety of pieces that explore rhythm in music. Students sang and played recorder on “The Anvil Chorus” from Guiseppe Verdi’s opera, “Il Trovatore,” as well the traditional Russian folk song, “The Birch Tree.”
“And then it’s a really cool tie-in because Tchaikovsky also uses that theme in his Fourth Symphony, so we play a movement of that Fourth Symphony,” Vollom-Matturro said.
Vollom-Matturro visited the 10 participating schools in the southern and central peninsula for final rehearsals last week, and said the kids were really getting into the music. That was definitely the case at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai on Thursday.
“Now ‘The Birch Tree’ melody is played by the low brass and it sounds angry, Vollom-Matturro said.
“Awesome!” a student replied.
“It’s really cool. And then it sounds pretty again, and then it sounds angry, and then it’s pretty and then it’s wild and crazy,” Vollom-Matturro said.
That might be the first time a fourth-grader spontaneously declared orchestral music to be “awesome,” and the amazement didn’t stop there. Vollom-Matturro was especially floored by how students took to signing “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”
“I had my reservations about ‘O Fortuna’ because it’s in Latin. But as I go to the schools and see what the teachers have done, they know it, they love it. They get to sing in Latin and it’s cool,” Vollom-Matturro said.
The orchestra also performed “Mars” from “The Planets,” the Kenai Central High School Drum Line livened things up with a rhythm challenge, and with the lyrics projected on a screen onstage, the audience could join in on the final piece, as well.
“A piece called ‘Let’s Get Loud.’ And it just rocks, there’s nothing else to say about it. The kids sing it and they dance and they clap and they have a good time,” she said.
Two hundred or so students were expected to participate, from McNeil Canyon, Fireweed, Chapman and Ninilchik schools on the southern peninsula, and Mountain View, Kaleidoscope, Nikiski North Star, Kalifornsky Beach and Soldotna Elementary schools on the central peninsula.