Take one glorious autumn weekend, sprinkle in 700 children, parents, teachers and chaperones throughout Symphony Center, stir in the delightful CSO’s Family Matinee Series concert “Friends in Harmony,” and you have a perfect start to the 2017-18 Adventures in Music season. Fondly referred to as AIM, this program tries to expand the exposure to and understanding of classical music by young audiences who may otherwise not enjoy these priceless gifts. While the program’s focus is on children from the ages of 5 through middle school, several high school students are also participating this season.

Guest conductor Thomas Wilkins speaks to young students during the “Friends in Harmony” concert. | ©Todd Rosenberg 2017

This season’s concert series explores the concept of harmony, emphasizing its significance within the language of music, its vital role in sustaining our environment and our planet, and the foundation it provides for our personal friendships, as well as our connections with all humankind. The autumn concerts, performed on Dec. 1-2, were titled “Friends in Harmony” and illustrated how all cultures use the universal language of music to share who we are and to discover the vital ways in which we are all so alike. Guest conductor Thomas Wilkins led Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in selections that swept listeners around the melodic globe, from Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, Copland’s Rodeo, Bizet’s L’arlesienne, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony  No. 4 to Coleridge-Taylor’s Danse négre and then on to Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, concluding with Ginastera’s Malambo from Four Dances from Estancia — complete with a dancing demonstration.

For those attending the Dec. 2 concert, a full complement of entertaining and educational activities beforehand swept guests up the six floors of Symphony Center’s Rotunda, where they could enjoy an instrument petting zoo, make their own violin or flute, or observe and then join in traditional dancing demonstrated with skill and enthusiasm by students from Senn High School. The students and their parents and chaperones alike were fully primed to enjoy the glorious music they were about to hear.

Thanks to the robust support of the Negaunee Music Institute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, AIM has grown this fall from last spring’s core of eight elementary schools and community organizations across the Chicago area to its current roster of 14 participating groups. This year’s community partners consist of Jane Addams Elementary School, Galileo Math and Science Academy, Johnson School of Excellence, Grace English Lutheran School, Holy Family Lutheran School, Nixon Elementary School, Chopin Elementary School, Falconer Elementary School, Henry D. Lloyd Elementary School and McCutcheon Elementary School. Member community organizations are Chinese Mutual Aid Association, Chicago West Community Music Center, Chicago Lights and Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

Three elementary students pause for a photo before the “Friends in Harmony” concert on Dec. 1. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Growing as well has been the number of volunteers who serve as hosts and guides to the 14 community schools and organizations. These 45 women and men have been joined this year by several members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Overture Council, who help to assure that the 700 AIM guests experience a smooth and pleasurable global musical tour.

Students and their teachers, parents and chaperones will attend two more concerts this season. Tickets for these concerts and transportation to and from their school or organization are provided free of charge. Groups may attend on Fridays via school field trips or come with their families on Saturday mornings for the Family Matinee Series. The winter concerts, titled “Let’s Explore,” will be performed March 16-17, followed by performances of Stravinsky’s The Firebird on May 4-5.

AIM community partner schools and organizations also serve as hosts for a CSO chamber concert at their home locations, and many receive preparatory visits by CSO docents. A Teacher’s Guide, prepared by the staff of the Negaunee Music Institute, assists teachers and organizational leaders in getting their children fully equipped to enjoy their Symphony Center visits.

If watching the faces of children and adults alike light up as magnificent music illustrates “great examples of unity and extraordinary possibilities that are within reach when we strengthen our connections with one another,” as the program book describes, consider joining the League members of AIM. Contact AIM chairperson Sue Bridge at sue6721@gmail.com. Nothing adds harmony to your day like 700 smiles!

TOP: From his lower balcony seat, a young student pops up for a better look at the “Friends in Harmony” concert Dec. 1. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017