Actor Alex Mauney beholds a vital ingredient in the Once Upon a Symphony production of “Stone Soup,” staged at Palm Beach Day Academy during the CSO’s East Coast Tour 2018. TOP: After the show, children put their hands on a bass to feel its vibrations. | ©Todd Rosenberg 2018

On a typically sunny and unseasonably warm morning in West Palm Beach, Florida, four CSO musicians and a Chicago-based actor walked into the music room at Palm Beach Day Academy.

They were there as part of the CSO’s East Coast Tour 2018, but theirs was not the typical chamber ensemble performance introducing the instruments of the orchestra to aspiring students. Two groups of approximately 75 students, in grades pre-kindergarten through third, were about to experience a Once Upon a Symphony program, an engaging blend of live music and storytelling that introduces young children to the world of classical music and the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The program presented to the young students that morning was a musical version of the folk tale “Stone Soup,” which emphasizes the importance of sharing, and demonstrates how musical ensembles are a harmonious blend of different sonic flavors and textures.

“Before we start our program, we have a little rehearsal to do,” said Alex Mauney, a member of the Chicago Children’s Theatre Teaching Artist Community, in his introduction. Mauney led students in learning a song that was an integral and recurring part of the story, with lyrics set to the St. Anthony Chorale, which was the basis of Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. The Brahms variations had a featured role in the program. Mauney then led the enthusiastic audience in an original welcoming song, which wove together themes from many well-known orchestral works: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and Stravinsky’s The Firebird, among them.

CSO musicians played solo and in duos, trios and quartets, building a musical “soup” from the bass line up to the melody. Each musician also played a character in the story and wore a simple costume, giving the young audience members an opportunity to see them in a more personal light than what a traditional, formal chamber performance often allows. After the concert, the musicians greeted the young audience members. Bassist Dan Armstrong allowed the children to feel the sound vibrating through the back of the instrument. Mauney shared a few encouraging words about the students’ future involvement in music: “Music isn’t just something you listen to, it’s something you can do!” From the grins on their faces, this was an experience they won’t soon forget.

In addition to the Once Upon a Symphony program that morning, a string quintet offered a chamber ensemble performance and coached high school musicians at the public Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Activities like these are a regular part of the CSO’s domestic and international tours, demonstrating the wide range of educational, training and community-engagement programming that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association offers under the auspices of the Negaunee Music Institute.

Jon Weber is director of school and family programs of the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute. Once Upon a Symphony is produced and presented in collaboration with Chicago Children’s Theatre.