Free for families |

Free for families

Naomi Havlen
Every Saturday, listeners of all ages are invited to enjoy classical music atop Aspen Mountain. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

A crowd files out of the Benedict Music Tent on a Friday evening, having been absorbed in the Aspen Chamber Symphony for the past 40 minutes.They sip lemonade and munch cookies from the concession stand during intermission, greeting friends and discussing the Weber overture and Bartok piano concerto they just heard. It’s a typical Friday evening at the tent, right down to the demographics of the audience.Helen and Joe Badt, part-time Snowmass residents, are chatting with their friends, part-time Aspenites Marion and Don Weiss; they’re all in their 70s. They have season tickets to the Aspen Music Festival & School’s summer of music, and grew to love classical music while growing up.Not far away, Woody Creek residents Dick and Marianne Kipper, both 66, talk about the world-class music in Aspen. Dick played in an orchestra in grade school, and Marianne took an extensive course in the arts in college and used to be a ballet dancer.The younger generation in the crowd on this particular Friday night appear to be almost exclusively local music students, some with instrument cases slung over their shoulders. On the free listening lawn outside the music tent, there are more dogs than small children. Predominantly gray-haired people sit silently in low chairs and on blankets, enjoying the cascade of notes from the stage.

The aged audience doesn’t surprise David Zinman, the festival’s music director.”I think it’s essentially what happens in most situations in life – when I was a kid, I didn’t go to many concerts, but my parents and grandparents did,” he said. “I think it’s a normal thing – older people go to serious classical concerts.”As a musician, Zinman was exposed to classical music in other ways growing up. But many people are not, and that causes concern in the classical-music world.According to a June 25 article in The New York Times headlined “Decline in listeners worries orchestras,” orchestra subscription sales are dropping widely around the world, as audiences grow older and young people fail to take interest. In subsequent letters to the editor, readers attribute the trend to MTV attention spans, and the saturation of pop, rap and hip-hop in the music marketplace.The Aspen Music Festival and School attempts to bridge this age gap a couple of different ways. This year they’re holding the second annual “Day of Music” on July 12, full of free concerts and tours of the music school campus.But all summer long there’s also a wealth of events geared toward kids of all ages and their parents, a product of the festival’s “educational outreach programs.”

The Aspen Music Festival and School asked Deborah Barnekow in 1996 to be its director of educational outreach. A oboist and composer herself, she played with numerous symphonies before asthma stopped her ability to perform regularly. This is her 21st summer in Aspen – she was a student at AMFS herself in the mid-’70s.These days she’s a recognizable face at summer events for children, often as the ringleader of some high-energy gatherings, including “Gotta Move!” At this free event, kids from ages 4 to 8 learn the basics of beat, melody and rhythm by moving around to a performance by AMFS students on the school’s campus. Barnekow has handed out scarves for the children to wave in the air during slow songs – the movement helps children understand the “longer phrasing” of slow, flowing pieces.Shakers are also given to the children to help keep the beat.”It’s important for us to pay attention to the next several generations of people who will go to concerts,” Barnekow said. “Beyond that, we all feel a commitment that this is an enrichment, a culture we need, and we owe it to children.”

The list of programs aimed at families with children is extensive this summer. (See the festival website at AMFS has also been presenting Tunes and Tales at the Pitkin County Library since 1989 on some weekday afternoons. Storytellers spin tales while AMFS students play music to set the mood. When the story’s over, they play more and discuss their instruments.Music on the Mountain takes place every Saturday at 1 p.m. atop Aspen Mountain, as chamber ensembles and soloists play hour-long concerts.The hugely successful Peanut Butter & Jam Session for 2- to 5-year-olds will be held at 6 p.m., July 12, at Harris Concert Hall, and includes a “mini mosh pit” at the front of the room where kids can get down to the beat and keep moving. At the same time, a family concert in the music tent is for older children who are better at sitting still.Barnekow said she’s seen plenty of children grow up feeling more of a connection with classical music, even while they continue to enjoy rock ‘n’ roll. The programs also help parents start taking their kids to concerts.”I think there are certain ways of presenting [classical music] that make it less elitist – ways of getting people who wouldn’t otherwise come to these concerts,” she said.

But music education is more than just replacing an aging audience of classical listeners; it’s about helping others discover this form of music.”When I think about the children’s programs, I think about the individual, the one child who can discover something they love that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to,” said Laura Smith, the festival’s director of communications. “As an institution, we’re committed to this art form thriving in our society, and this is how you do it. I tend to think about art in this world, and if you help people discover it, that’s wonderful.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail is

The Aspen Music Festival’s second annual Day of Music, Tuesday, July 12, is more than a chance to attend a number of free concerts. It’s a chance for the public to see what happens on a day-to-day basis at the renowned festival and school, said AMFS Music Director David Zinman. He and Asadour Santourian, AMFS artistic advisor and administrator, dreamed up the concept last year as a way of showcasing all that happens in typical day at the festival.”It’s a day where everyone from morning to night can visit classes, teachers, rehearsals and attend a family concert,” he said. “I think there are people who just want to see what’s happening at the festival, who go to concerts and don’t know much about everything behind the scenes.”The Day of Music has the added benefit of initiating the community in classical music while proving that AMFS is a “user-friendly” organization, he said.Free events and open studio sessions begin at 9:30 a.m. at the music school campus on Castle Creek Road. There is a noon spotlight recital at the Aspen Community Church; a Distinguished Artist Master Class, featuring soprano Elizabeth Hynes, begins in Harris Concert Hall at 1 p.m.Family programming starts at 6 p.m., with the Peanut Butter & Jam Session for little ones ages 2 to 5 in Harris Concert Hall, and a family concert for older children in the Benedict Music Tent. The day wraps up with an 8 p.m. chamber music concert in Harris Concert Hall, the “Juilliard Centennial Salute,” featuring works by Bach, Poulenc, Christopher Rouse, Robert Beaser and Mendelssohn.

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