Super Arts Saturday invites children to learn about art, hear Tufts Wind Ensemble

Tufts University lecturer John McCann speaks to a young attendee of the Super Arts Saturday on Feb. 24. Courtesy Alanna Fusco

If you walked past the Granoff Music Center last Saturday, you probably saw clusters of children and families with blue folders and maps of the music center. That’s because last weekend, several Tufts arts organizations came together for Super Arts Saturday, an event for children to learn about the arts through a concert and other arts-focused activities. 

According to Edith Auner, coordinator of applied music and director of outreach activities and the organizer behind Super Arts Saturday, while the two hours of activities were a new addition, the concert series for children has been happening for many years. 

“We’ve always had concerts for children ever since this building opened in 2007,” Auner said. “We usually have four or five free concerts for kids every year, and the Wind Ensemble has performed every year … And we decided to try this year to see if it would work to expand one of the free concert days, so this is the first time to add these extra two hours.” 

Families with children of all ages packed into the Distler Performance Hall for a performance by the Tufts Wind Ensemble, titled “Every Day is Earth Day,” with audience participation led by John McCann, director of the Tufts Wind Ensemble and the conductor of the concert. Children received coloring pages, boards and crayons alongside their programs at the door, and the house lights were kept on so that children could color while they listened to the music. The occasional toddler would wobble down the aisles of Distler while the Wind Ensemble performed their six pieces, one of which included a reading of the Lorax (performed by sophomore Molly Lie and senior Abraar Ahmad) alongside a musical accompaniment. 

McCann said that while it is important to keep children engaged, it is not necessary to sacrifice the quality of the music because it is being performed for a younger audience.  

“I don’t really try and dumb it down for kids; I do sometimes engage them in other ways beyond just hearing the music,” he said. “It’s an hour-long concert, and for a six-year-old, an hour’s a long time. So we need to keep them moving a little bit and singing and actively participating. But as far as the music we pick out, it’s the same level of difficulty for this. We take playing well for little children seriously … And hearing groups play live is very different than hearing recordings, or even watching a video of a group play.”

After the concert, according to Auner, children received a folder with a passport, a map and information about future events. Children could pick four 30-minute workshops from seven choices and get their passports stamped at each one.   

“There’s lots of student involvement,” Auner said. “Torn Ticket is involved in it, and the art gallery is very involved in it as well … we have a Tufts Youth Philharmonic, so there are kids from that that are helping — they’re volunteering to stamp passports and guide people around.”

According to Auner, the seven stations were an instrument petting zoo, a conducting station, a composition workshop, an African drumming class, a fine art project with the art gallery staff, a dance workshop and Torn Ticket II’s interactive performance of songs from their upcoming cabaret show.

McCann ran the conducting workshop, placing each child in an oversized conductor’s jacket and teaching them how to move a baton to conduct a group of about 10 members of the Wind Ensemble. 

“This is really a one-on-one opportunity for them to have the group of instrumentalists react to them,” McCann said, “either in kind of a freestyle situation, where we make up stuff, we improvise based on their movements and their activity and their energy, or if they’re a little more advanced, we play an actual song, and we work really hard to follow them so they feel empowered that they really are in charge. That’s the goal of this little 30-minute event.” 

McCann, Auner and members of the Wind Ensemble all expressed enjoyment getting to work with young children. According to senior Claire Nataro and sophomore Sophie Saunders, children make a great audience because they’re so responsive. 

“They’re always so curious,” junior Zach Kaplan agreed.

Kaplan let children look at and listen to his tuba as part of the instrument petting zoo, an activity the Wind Ensemble often brings to schools they perform at on their trips, according to junior Shravya Sakunala.

McCann said an event like Super Arts Saturday is a great way to expose children to the arts.

“My goal is that every one of those little kids will look at the Tufts students, and say, ‘When I get [to] that age, I want to be that kid,’” he said. “It’s a bit of a recruiting [event] … For my Tufts students, doing these children’s events — we do one a year, basically — is one of their favorite concerts.”   

Auner expressed a similar sentiment.  

“I suppose my favorite part is seeing how excited the kids are when they come and participate,” she said. “I’m hopeful … that we can build on this and make it an annual thing.”