“Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence and whereto.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
From September 16th to the 18th, I was in Owen Sound, where I enjoyed several beautiful concerts at the Sweetwater Music Festival. For an entire weekend I listened to brilliant performances of such composers as Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Schubert, Ravel, Beethoven and Prokofiev, as well as some original modern compositions. I have attended this event a number of times now and with a child’s sense of wonder I have been completely transported by the skill of the musicians – their poise and precision – and the flood of complex collections of notes and the glorious sounds. I am an amateur musician and remain in awe of everything I still don’t know about music and continue to want to know. But as someone with a particular love of music in early childhood, and a dedication to making music education accessible to young children, there was a special concert that I found truly touching: Mozart for Munchkins, which took place at the Harmony Centre Concert Hall, and was organized by artistic director Mark Fewer.
Upon entering the room children were free to explore a variety of percussion instruments including drums, shakers, gongs and rasps. But the real magic began when Matthias Maute - conductor, recorder and flute player, and composer – and Mark Edwards (prize-winning Canadian harpsichordist and organist) provided performances that not only demonstrated their enormous talent, but showcased the qualities of their instruments and introduced the audience to a range of musical styles. Matthias Maute engaged the participation of the audience by asking a variety of questions, conducting as they shook their hands when recognizing high, medium or low pitches and leading a line of children and adults through the church as he played the baroque flute. Take a moment to listen to a recording that captures Matthias Maute’s wonderful style! Mark Edwards explained the difference between a piano and harpsichord, and how the strings of the harpsichord are plucked by quills made from bird feathers. He also told a charming story about the number of harpsichord compositions that are about birds, and demonstrated how bird sounds can be represented musically. This is just a small example of the kind of beautiful sounds Mark Edwards shared with children!
My favourite part of the concert was when Matthias Maute, while playing a rendition of Summertime, serenaded a toddler who stood up at the front, as close as he could, staring up at the musician, completely mesmerized. I like to believe that this was a defining moment where a child sees a vision of him or herself in something amazing, and decides that this is something he or she might want to do. Through music sweet and slow, and fast and furious, children at this special concert had the chance to hear a broad spectrum of pieces, to see what is possible with the motivation to play, the opportunity to learn and the time taken to practise. A 45-minute concert for children may seem like a small thing to some but really, it’s a gateway between what begins as a dream for a child and what could become the pursuit of that dream. I for one am eternally grateful to those who provide and nurture that kind of inspiration and hope, and look forward to next year’s Sweetwater Music Festival and the chance to see more of the faces of children who just may be tomorrow’s rising stars there.
“A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate, it goes on to become. ” ~ W.H. Auden