A child’s foundation for future music development is established before they even enter kindergarten. Small children, however, aren’t allowed to attend many musical performances.
The BYU Sorenson Family Concert Series puts that matter to rest with high-quality shows made especially for children and available at no cost thanks to a grant from the Sorenson Family Foundation.
The concert series not only educates and entertains children but brings families closer together and gives both students and faculty a unique opportunity to serve.
“I’ve always sort of worried that these wonderful concerts are not available to children at that very young age, during their formative years,” said Susan Kenney, professor of music education at BYU. “It’s pretty standard knowledge in the education world that the first three years are the most important for brain development, to lay the foundation of all their learning.”
Currently, the concert series consists of four shows — two in the fall, two in the spring — all at no cost to the audience. Concerts last 40 minutes.
The most recent concert in the series was the Jazz for Kids concert, which took place Saturday, Nov. 16. BYU’s Jazz Legacy Dixieland Band performed, and every single ticket was distributed.
Rachel Jenkins, 34, attended the concert with her toddler.
“I like having a place where (children) can be exposed to music, where it’s ok that they’re kids and where if they’re crying I can take them out and it’s not a big deal,” Jenkins said. “It’s shorter instead of being a really long, drawn-out program.”
Each concert is specially adapted for children. From giving opportunity for audience participation to providing activity sheets in the printed programs, the program encourages families to immerse their children in the music.
“(The concerts are) family friendly, and the performers talk to the audience,” said Emily Hansen, 30. “My family has always been very musical, so starting (my children) young is very good.”
Jenkins also found the concert adaptations to be beneficial.
“It works really, really well,” Jenkins said. “It’s given them a place where they can practice sitting and behaving and clapping at the right time and how to be nice so that when they’re older we can go to other things.”
Steve Call, BYU music professor and director of the BYU Jazz Legacy Dixieland Band, is a veteran participant in the family concert series.
“I volunteered when I found out this was going,” Call said. “I love performing for kids. I’m primarily a music educator, and to me teaching is the highest calling in whatever field. To introduce this kind of music to a younger audience sort of helps ensure an audience for this kind of music.”
The concert series is also a chance for music students not only to practice their curriculum but to see the effects their performances might have on an audience.
“(Students) get to understand and see the impact that they have on young people,” Call said.
Kenney also believes student participation is one of the greatest parts of the concert series.
“They’re getting experience by attending the program,” Kenney said. “Some of them help write part of the program, and all of the students in the performance group are getting this experience playing for kids. They’re just loving it.”
The concerts came about five years ago as a result of the collaboration between Kory Katseanes, the current director of BYU’s School of Music, Kenney and fellow music education professor Rob Dunn. With the help of Larry Vincent, head of the opera division at the School of Music, the first concert took place.
It was not as well attended as today’s concerts are, but at the time, the founders were pleased with the turnout. Initially, there was a minimal fee charged to cover performance costs. There was, however, the ultimate goal of offering the concerts for free.
“We really wanted to reach out,” Kenney said, “We wanted money to be no object for anyone to come, and we wanted people from all socioeconomic levels to be able to attend.”
That was made possible when Kenney brought up the matter with local philanthropist and proponent of the arts Beverly Sorenson. The concert series was recently named the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Family Concert Series to honor her generosity and her key role in making the concerts possible. Sorenson passed away in May of 2013.
“She was so excited, and so we applied for a grant from her organization, which made it so that we could offer these concerts without a cost for the public,” Kenney said.
Kenney hopes to continue the concert series for many years. She also believes its success could inspire other universities to implement similar events.
“We know that even when those kids are squirming and squirreling they won’t forget the sounds their ears are picking up,” Kenney said. “The children are participating in something they know their family values, and they will value it too, just for that reason. In a way, we’re building future music appreciators.”
The spring Sorenson Family Concerts will take place Feb. 15 and April 12 in the de Jong Concert Hall, featuring the BYU Men’s and Women’s Chorus and the BYU Philharmonic, respectively.