In Link Up, the Kids are the Stars

Singer and actress Catherine Hunsinger says being on stage with the SC Phil for Link Up is more enjoyable and inspiring than any other performance she does. 

Let me begin by telling you that Carnegie Hall’s Link Up children’s concert series is the “gig” I most look forward to every year and the one I miss most deeply when it’s over. If I could make it my full time job, I would in a second. 

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I was first introduced to Link Up in New York at Carnegie Hall and immediately fell in love with it. When Education Director Kim Williams was hired to launch the program with the SC Phil and asked me to be one of the singers, I was thrilled! 

With Link Up, we would not only be inviting the children to be inspired by music as audience members, but they would take part in it as musicians! If you’re not familiar with the series, let me explain…

 The South Carolina Philharmonic (SCP) is one of 59 orchestras in the country chosen to partner with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) Link Up program, which is an in-school music education curriculum for K-6 students. This year, Carnegie Hall and the SC Phil provided over 90 schools from around the Midlands with a year-long music curriculum, including an assortment of original pieces by New York composer Tom Cabaniss, and orchestral staples, such as Beethoven’s Fifth. This year’s program, “The Orchestra Moves,” included a curriculum on melody, rhythm and harmony, as well as how music moves those who experience it. Students received a soprano recorder and learned simplified versions of the orchestrations, then got to PERFORM WITH THE ORCHESTRA (!!!) from the audience!

 This concept may seem chaotic to those who haven’t experienced it (and I have to recommend taking the time to observe this remarkable sight for yourself), but it is unquestionably one of the most inspiring, exciting and fulfilling experiences one can witness and be a part of.

 There was a moment in the first year I was involved with the program, during the finale, that I saw a group of special needs students on their feet, dancing, drumming, clapping, and simply living in the music. It took my breath away. As a singer and an actress, I’ve learned to control my emotions on stage – to erase the audience from existence until I’m through with my performance… But in that moment, I had to allow myself to fully indulge in the magical moment that was unfolding before me – to be carried away by the fact that this program was living completely to its full potential and far beyond.

Listening for the next four-note motif.

 This year, the orchestra played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Pause for a moment, and imagine that you’ve brought your child to watch the orchestra play Beethoven’s Fifth during a Master Series concert – you’re likely envisioning a fidgety, uninterested kid who can’t seem to muster up enough interest to sit still for even a quarter of the piece. Now let me take you to the reality of what happened last week: children in silence. At the edge of their seats. Soaking in every note from every instrument (and maybe an occasional solo from one of the recorders in the audience – but hey! Who’s to say that stray recorder solo isn’t coming from the future principal oboist of the SCP??) After a quick lesson from emcee Kim Williams on Beethoven’s ever famous four-note motif (BUM BUM BUM BUUUMMMMM…. BUM BUM BUM BUUUUUUUM – you know the one), students were ready and excited to identify every place within the piece that they could find those four famous notes. The silence and tangible interest was spectacular and moving.

 Last week, as I finished up my third season working with the SC Phil on this concert series, I found myself wandering slowly through the lines of children leaving the concert hall, pausing to listen to conversations as I went. I passed one particular group of students all in blue when I caught the end of what must have been a proclamation of commitment to music for eternity (at least that’s how I like to interpret it): “Mom,” he said, “Did you see me play?? I was the STAR!”

 And that, in summary, is what is so perfect about this program. The students are the stars. They are wholly who the program is for and about. Yes, there’s an orchestra on stage, and singers, and an emcee. But we’re far less exciting than our future artists and musicians. Our future. To be a part of and witness the influence of music on children who otherwise might never have seen an orchestra perform live – that’s what it’s all about.

 

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