Behind the Scenes

Plymouth orchestra puts young musicians on stage

Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra
A musician demonstrates the tympani before last year’s family concert.

The Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra has found that involving young people in its performances pays off for both the audience and the performers.

“When you involve them first-hand, that’s the kind of experience that just keeps coming,’’ said Steven Karidoyanes, the orchestra’s music director.

Partnering with the Plymouth schools, the orchestra formed a special performance group for its annual family concerts. Called the Plymouth Children’s Chorus, the group consists of about 125 fourth- and fifth-graders chosen by their elementary schools.


For the children, it’s a free enrichment program, funded by sponsors. For the orchestra, it builds both audience and community.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The program lasts eight weeks, Karidoyanes said recently as he prepared to leave for his first rehearsal with the group that has been working with director Kathy McMinn. “Eight focused weeks beginning in January to a performance in March,’’ he said. “And I love it.’’

“It’s really a luge ride,’’ said McMinn, who teaches music at Plymouth’s Federal Furnace School.

“We have four rehearsals and they have five songs memorized,’’ she said. “Kids are sponges. They learn that quickly.’’

After the songs are memorized, Karidoyanes comes down to listen to a rehearsal. Then he conducts them at the next rehearsal. On the final week, they rehearse with the orchestra. It’s a straight, fast climb to the stage in the town’s 1,500-seat Memorial Hall, but the children are up to it.


“This is where the bar is,’’ McMinn said. “They don’t really question this, and they do it.’’

This weekend the chorus will join the philharmonic for two pieces of film music by composer John Williams, “Double Trouble’’ from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’’ and “Dry Your Tears, Afrika’’ from “Amistad.’’

The text in “Double Trouble’’ is taken from the witches’ chant (“Double, double toil and trouble/ Fire burn, and caldron bubble’’) in Shakespeare’s “MacBeth.’’ In the song from “Amistad,’’ a movie about escaped slaves winning their freedom, the text is sung in the West African Mende language.

The chorus will also perform “Ye Shall Have a Song’’ by Randall Thompson; “The Skye Boat Song,’’ a Scottish folk song about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Isle of Skye after a crushing defeat by the English; and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.’’

In addition to the role played by the children’s chorus, the Plymouth Philharmonic calls its family concert “The Rising Star Showcase’’ because the winner of the South Shore Conservatory’s concerto competition performs as the concert’s guest solo artist.


This year’s winner, 18-year-old Gillian Pentheny of Marshfield, will perform the first movement of Mozart’s familiar Flute Concerto No. 1. A flute student of instructor Donald Zook at the community music school, Pentheny is a member of the conservatory’s Bay Youth Symphony and has participated in its Flute Symphony program for eight years.

The concert also includes a musical commemoration of the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat, the USS Constitution, berthed in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard.

The orchestra observes the War of 1812 bicentennial by performing excerpts from Richard Rodgers’s “Victory at Sea,’’ written to accompany a documentary on the naval battles of World War II, and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.’’

Audience participation will reach new heights in the “Overture’’ when Karidoyanes conducts the audience in a “boom-along’’ to simulate the cannon fire in the piece’s finale.

The traditional hands-on instrument demonstration will precede the concert, at 2 p.m. Players will demonstrate all the instruments in the orchestra, and children will get the opportunity to pluck a string or strike a cymbal.

Putting young people in touch with the orchestra pays off long term, Karidoyanes said. “I still get letters saying things like, ‘The first time I touched an instrument was at the family concert.’ ’’

Robert Knox can be reached at