Arts & Culture

Symphony’s Family Concert will have garbage-can drummers, movie tunes

Conductor Marlene Pauley will conduct the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s third annual Family Concert.
Conductor Marlene Pauley will conduct the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s third annual Family Concert. Courtesy photo

The toughest audience to play for, veteran symphony conductor Marlene Pauley says, is youngsters.

“The pressure is on a conductor and musicians to get the attention of an audience who are fidgety and squirmy and frankly live in a pretty fast-paced, sound-bite world,” Pauley said in a phone interview from her home in Minneapolis. “To get them to really listen is my challenge.”

So when she conducts the third annual Family Concert for the Wichita Symphony next weekend, Pauley will be armed with outer space, Captain Jack Sparrow, “odd” instruments, Nintendo, garbage cans – and more than just a little bit of science.

“Don really wanted something that was meaningful in terms of science,” Pauley said of Wichita Symphony CEO Don Reinhold. “There’s such an emphasis on science these days, and music can be certainly be a part of that.”

The concert, with the title “Good Vibrations,” will begin with “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from Gustav Holst’s suite “The Planets,” and conclude with selections from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

In between, Pauley said, are sections devoted to different parts of the orchestra.

The string section is first, playing the Scherzo movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

“It’s just a short little blurb, but all of the stringed instruments are playing pizzicato – plucking their strings instead of bowing,” Pauley said. “So many times, the kids might see an orchestra where the string players are all bowing, but they don’t get the chance to see them all plucking the strings together. It’s a really cool sound, with a lot of dynamic change from really, really soft to really, really loud.”

Next are the woodwinds, where Pauley highlights what she considers six “odd members” of the section: a piccolo, which Pauley calls “the baby of the orchestra”; the alto flute, “which none of them have ever seen unless they were really initiated in the study of music”; the English horn, an “older, deeper, lower relative of the oboe”; a contrabassoon, 16 feet when stretched out; a bass clarinet, “the granddaddy”; and an E-flat clarinet, “the 2-year-old with a temper tantrum member of the orchestra – the screamer,” about one-half to two-thirds the size of a clarinet.

The brass section will be featured in a fanfare by Paul Dukas, best known as the composer of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Percussionists will get their time on center stage in a piece called “Stinkin’ Garbage,” where the drummers play on actual garbage cans.

“Found-sound instruments are really fun for kids. It’s a really cool piece,” Pauley said. “I’ve programmed it before and people go crazy about it, because they get it. They get that music is for everybody, not just for the people who studied since they were 3 or 4 years old. Music is out there for the taking and for the experiencing and listening.”

Family concerts, such as the Wichita Symphony’s next weekend, are as much fun for the players as they are for the audience, Pauley said.

“It’s always fun for them to have an audience of these young sponges. All you have to do is give them the permission to enjoy what’s before them,” she said.

“They get that these will be the seeds for the kids in the audience, to hopefully a lifelong interest in music, if not participation in music.”


When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-12

Information: Tickets are available at, by phone at 316-267-7658 or in person at the symphony box office. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.