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Forte: The listening continues at Meet the Orchestra


Danene Knudsen at Meet the Orchestra at the Yakima Valley Museum’s weekly story hour on Aug. 1, 2018.

YAKIMA, Wash. -- At the Meet the Orchestra event at the Yakima Valley Museum on Aug. 1, about 65 children from newborn to age 12 gathered in quiet anticipation among the lower level’s wagons and displays. Meet the Orchestra is usually held in the Children’s Underground area, but this day they met in the museum because that is where the grand piano lives.

Special guest Danene Knudsen drew them into the piano through the great classical master Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Stories of Mozart’s childhood led to the first piece she played, known to children of all ages, sung from the cradle to soothe and in the classroom to teach: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

While not composed by Mozart, he did write a series of variations on this tune for the piano, and his name is often connected to the song.

Knudsen moved next to Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor and invited the children to focus on “listening.” She taped the words and phrases “happy,” “scary,” “like a harp,” “angry,” “calm” and “in a hurry” to the piano. She played the piece, pausing from time to time so the children could tell her which of these they heard in the music.

Listening has been a consistent theme in the symphony’s SCENE columns this summer:

• Principal horn Jeff Snedeker first described the sound and placement of the horn typically in the center of the back row of the orchestra, then wrote about why we need live music.

• Principal bassoon Ryan Hare contributed columns headlined “In praise of listening” and “The listener’s journey leads to wonder.”

• Principal oboe Brent Hages wrote about the transformative experience of live performance at a professional level, at once familiar from listening to recordings but also extraordinary because it was a live performance.

• And YSO concertmaster Denise Dillenbeck shared how listening allows musicians of all linguistic backgrounds to communicate clearly and joyfully through the universal language of music.

What the young audience members and their parents at Meet the Orchestra learned last week was that listening to music need not be a passive endeavor. Listening is a way for them to participate actively in the music, and in so doing to learn more about themselves and about what they have in common with one another and with the performing musicians.

This gives them even more to look forward to as the Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s musicians prepare to share a season’s worth of “happy,” “scary,” “like a harp,” “angry,” “calm” and “in a hurry” with them, with you, and with one another.

• This column was written by Yakima Symphony Orchestra staff. Learn more at

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