The Virginia Riggs Children’s Concert

(Photo courtesy of Central Oregon Symphony)

A Performance to Inspire the Future of Classical Music

There’s something about music that inspires people of all ages to gather and express themselves, and there’s even science that says playing an instrument is a very healthy activity for your brain. In an exciting new effort to share classical music with kids and adults alike, the Central Oregon Symphony will be performing in a joint children’s concert with the Central Oregon Youth Orchestra, called the Virginia Riggs Children’s Concert.

Helping lead this new event is Michael Gesme, professor of music at Central Oregon Community College and conductor of the Central Oregon Symphony; as well as Travis Allen, the executive director of the Central Oregon Youth Symphony and principal cellist for the Central Oregon Symphony.

The Central Oregon Youth Orchestra is made up of talented, classically inspired kids, mostly from Central Oregon’s high schools and middle schools. The Central Oregon Symphony, while operating through the community college, is not made up of four-year students in their late teens and early twenties. Instead, this symphony accepts all ages, and does not require a full-time student status to enter. As a result, around 90 percent or more of these orchestra students are full-time workers in a variety of fields, with no affiliation with the college outside of the orchestra; the same format that orchestras across the country follow.

“They’re students in that they are enrolled in the orchestra class, but that really ends there,” Michael said. “We treat them all like this is a professional orchestra.”

Much of the programming from both groups had been canceled in recent years due to pandemic related lockdowns. For that reason, this concert is a big one; it helps signal a return to normalcy and in-person interaction.

“We’re so excited to come back after three years,” Michael said. “This concert is extra special because it is the first time these two groups have collaborated, although we’ve always been supportive of each other.”

The name of the collaboration came from a former symphony musician whose memory lives on by her legacy of helping youth. “Virginia was a cellist who played with us for more than thirty years, starting back when our children’s concerts were in their infancy,” said Michael. “Her passion was placed in young people, and she always supported their opportunities to learn and get involved with music.”

At the children’s concert, adult musicians will be paired with youth musicians of the same instrument. Each pair will be able to play side-by-side, and each should benefit from the experience. “The adult musicians get to share their craft with someone young and interested in what they do, while the youth musicians get to see what the real deal is really like, and hopefully get inspired,” said Michael. “And, the community gets the gift of classical music. It’s really a win-win-win situation.”

Executive director of the Central Oregon Youth Orchestra, Travis Allen, recalls how that inspiration can be tantamount in a musician’s career. “I remember being a relatively green member of the Central Oregon Symphony when I was younger and just being blown away by the level of talent,” Travis said. “It’s an amazing feeling to see a group of experienced musicians perform a piece of music on their first try better than your youth orchestra could perform it after rehearsing for months.”

As the executive director, it is Travis’ goal to provide the youth orchestra with the experience of playing alongside a more seasoned group. “When kids get to see that, they begin to picture themselves as those older musicians,” Travis said. “Really we want to provide the youth musicians with role models to look up to.”

Aside from role models to help inspire, Travis believes the concert will be important for another reason. “I think it was difficult for many students of classical music to imagine themselves continuing their craft during lockdown,” Travis said. “It felt like the future wasn’t too bright for this genre, because we really couldn’t all come together to play as a group. This concert is a cool opportunity to revive the concept that these performances do actually occur, and this style of music has a home.”

The day of the concert, the Central Oregon Symphony has a special event prior to the performance. “Before the show, we’re going to have the instrument petting zoo,” said Michael. “Different musicians from each section of the orchestra will be standing out to answer questions about their instruments and to connect the kids with classical music in a more up-close setting. Within reason, kids might even be able to try out a few of the instruments.”

As for the performance, Michael says that the concert will feature a variety of work; some songs that the youth orchestra has been working on, and others that showcase the Symphony’s prowess. Guests can expect to hear a mix of both classical and contemporary work.

The Virginia Riggs Children’s Concert will begin at 10am on Saturday, February 25 and will take place in the auditorium at Bend Senior High School. The instrument petting zoo will begin at 9am.

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