Kidsymphony preview inspires West Elementary students

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 11/21/23


If their responses after the conclusion of the concert were any indication, Mid-Prairie West Elementary students will be making sure the Middle School band has plenty of flute and …

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Kidsymphony preview inspires West Elementary students



If their responses after the conclusion of the concert were any indication, Mid-Prairie West Elementary students will be making sure the Middle School band has plenty of flute and saxophone players in future years.

An ensemble from the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra performed a “traveling advertisement” for their Kidsymphony concert for students at West Elementary on Friday, Nov. 17 in the school gym. Professional storyteller Michael Boudewyns of Really Inventive Stuff entertained the students visually while the quintet played selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s composition, “Peter and the Wolf.”

The 45-minute kid-oriented concert was later performed with a full orchestra at Highland High School on Nov. 19, among other locations that weekend. Kids were admitted free.

Boudewyns held the students’ attention throughout the performance, telling the story of Peter and the Wolf physically through luggage, handbags, feather dusters, and plungers minimally embellished to resemble animals. Each instrument in the ensemble – flute, oboe, French horn, bassoon, and clarinet – took on a character role. The bird fluttered, the cat skittered up a tree – and the wolf swallowed someone whole, to the young audience’s astonishment.

Following the spirited performance, the ensemble played the first movement of Roaring Fork Quintet by Eric Ewazen, a piece intended to evoke the energy and action of whitewater rapids in Colorado. The young Golden Hawks remained attentive, maintaining their crisscross-applesauce postures on the gym floor.

Before packing up their stands and instruments, each member of the ensemble demonstrated their instrument for the students, explaining how it is they make sound from single and double reeds or by buzzing their lips.

The Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra (SEISO) is a rarity in that it primarily serves a rural area rather than a highly populated metropolitan one. Those living in the area surrounding Burlington, where the orchestra is based, ordinarily would have few to no opportunities to hear a live orchestra perform. With Kidsymphony’s tour to multiple schools and venues in Ottumwa, Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield, Wellman, Riverside, and Washington, access to the orchestra is made even more accessible.

For music director and conductor Robert McConnell, bringing the ensemble to Mid-Prairie West Elementary had a variety of objectives.

“One is, we’re trying to hit a lot of kids that maybe have thought about band, or they haven’t. This is a chance to hear instruments and get inspired and go into band,” he told The News after the performance. “And then it’s just really having them hear live music. That’s another big thing for us.”

In addition, McConnell hopes to attract adults to SEISO’s performances. “We really tell people this isn’t just for kids. If you haven’t’ heard an orchestra much, or you don’t know much about it, it’s pretty interesting to come.”

The musical selections being performed as part of Kidsymphony aren’t sleepers; kids and adults alike will recognize the rousing themes from Star Wars and Disney’s Encanto. Although when it comes to Peter and the Wolf, which McConnell said “90% of the kids had never heard” when he polled them in Washington, perhaps adults will be more apt to recognize it. If the 1983 film ‘A Christmas Story’ is part of your holiday traditions, you’ll recognize it as the score played whenever Ralphy and Randy find themselves running away from bully Scut Farkus.

And what was the students’ perception of their taste of Kidsymphony?

“It was good,” one student told The News before a crowd gathered around this reporter, eager to share what instruments they hope to play in the future. Having heard great music, they can’t wait to play some of their own.

For more information about concerts and tickets, visit

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