Welcome to the Surprise Party Parent Guide! Explore the activities below with your child before arriving at Symphony Center – we’ve broken them down by activity length so you can prepare on your own schedule.

LISTEN before the concert, using this playlist on Spotify or by using the tracks on SoundCloud.

*Note that a free account is required to use Spotify.


Your child will see many different instrument families at the concert today. Show him or her these pictures of each instrument family before you arrive. After finding your seats at the concert, ask your child if he or she can identify any of the instrument families!


Learn more about musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! Continue reading below to discover more about principal percussion Cynthia Yeh. You can also learn more about Cynthia and other members of the CSO at cso.org/dreamoutloud.

  • Cynthia was born in Taiwan and didn’t speak English when she moved to Canada.
  • She began on the piano when she was 4 years old and switched to percussion in high school.
  • Cynthia believes that music helped nurture her sense of discipline and determination.
  • “For the entire orchestra to play its best, every section needs to do its part.”


Dmitri Shostakovich

  • Wrote his first symphony by the age of 19
  • Because of the views of the Soviet Union, Shostakovich had to resort to writing “safe” music to stay out of jail. Festive Overture, a piece with a lively tempo and memorable melody, is one such piece

Franz Joseph Haydn

  • Haydn wrote 104 symphonies in his lifetime, and became known as the “father of the symphony.”
  • Haydn sold his compositions to music publishers, which made his music known and heard all over Europe.

Johann Strauss II

  • Strauss Jr.’s father was also a famous musician and decided that Strauss Jr. would be a banker instead! Luckily, his mother encouraged him to pursue music in secret.
  • At age 19, he started his own orchestra and conducted his first public concert.

Paul Dukas

  • Dukas was very critical of his own work, destroying many of his compositions after they were finished
  • His most famous surviving piece is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is featured in Disney’s Fantasia.

John Williams

  • Williams has composed the score to many films, including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.
  • He composed the score for the movie Lincoln and recorded and conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus for the soundtrack.

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • As a young boy, Beethoven became a traveling performer and was soon supporting his entire family.
  • Beethoven realized that he was going deaf at the age of 30. Although he could no longer hear, he could still compose music, and in fact, composed some of his best music after becoming deaf!

Sir William Walton

  • Walton composed music for propaganda films during the Second World War. During this time, he also wrote a comedy overture, Scapino, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Leonard Bernstein

  • When he was 25, Bernstein was appointed assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic. He went on to be named music director of that orchestra and conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the first time in 1944.
  • Bernstein loved to compose for orchestra, musical theater and film. The piece, “Mambo” is from his musical “West Side Story.”

Mikhail Glinka

  • He was the first Russian composer to win international attention and is known as the founder of the Russian nationalist school, identifiable in terms of national origin.
  • Although Glinka did not produce a wealth of compositions, he laid the foundation for future Russian composers!

Béla Bartók

  • He is considered one of the greatest and most well-known composers of the 20th century.
  • Bartók traveled throughout his native Hungary and other neighboring countries recording thousands of folk songs, which he then used in his own compositions.