NEWPORT BEACH – When I hear notes written for a galaxy far, far away, it takes me back to a long time ago. That's what happened to me Saturday morning at the Newport Beach Central Library.
I was there to hear a trio from the Pacific Symphony's string section present a kid-centric concert that highlights music's classical side. Violinists Dana Freeman, MarlaJoy Weisshaar and cellist Laszlo Mezo did their best to grab the attention spans of the group of 3-year-olds and above who were in attendance with their parents. Like most symphonic organizations, the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony does educational outreach in the local communities.
Playing for little ones can be tough on a day where most kids would probably prefer kicking soccer balls, chasing their dog around the yard and consuming sugary cereals. But Freeman, who did most of the talking, and her trio came prepared and enthused.
There were jokes: "Why are these called string instruments? … because they have strings!" And my personal favorite: "Bach wrote in the Baroque era, but that doesn't mean he was Baroquen!"
Then there was the music. They played a little Bach, a little Mozart, a little Halloween-themed, some "Harry Potter," some Haydn and some "Star Wars."
But it was George Lucas' space opera and its John Williams-penned score that struck a chord with me and probably a few fans in that audience.
These kids are lucky. I never got to see anything of the sort that young to get me interested. But, as fate would see to it, a long time ago I was able to grow my musical enthusiasm through another means: Darth Vader, a princess and an evil galactic empire.
When I go out and do the occasional interview for this column, I usually get asked about my musical background. I then give my resume: 13 years of playing French horn, 13 years of studying privately, a music minor in college and experience in a variety of ensembles.
But before all that, there was seeing "Star Wars" for the first time. I was in second grade, about 7 years old. As enamored as I was with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, the symphonic score with the London Symphony Orchestra struck me hardest.
I don't come from a musical family, so there weren't any instruments around the house. But I found a replacement: a piano with about eight keys. It was a toy meant for infants who didn't know proper pitch and didn't care.
I sat on the floor with it, my ears covered with headphones full of the "Star Wars" soundtrack. My hands searched for the right keys on my horrible piano, keys I thought would produce a note that seemed to match what I was hearing from "Star Wars." I went through the whole score — from Tatooine and its alien-filled cantina to the Death Star battle and ending credits — pounding away in a fashion no Fisher-Price toy was ever designed for.
It wasn't music, but an early experimentation. A few years later I learned to read musical notation, and it has since made all the difference in my life. I was lucky enough to attend a school district that supported the arts and maintained some of the finest public school music programs in the country.
Nowadays, outreach efforts like the Pacific Symphony's are important as ever. Furthermore, adequately funding school bands and orchestras is just as essential, as district budgets dwindle and dwindle.
I know that narrative of "don't cut the arts" is a tired old drum in the storyline of school concerns. But it's a drum that still needs to be beaten for music that needs to be played.
I hope mornings like Saturday's at the library with the stringed trio will be the catalyst that creates music interest for one, maybe two, of those kids. They'll see something like a fine Italian cello — a far better replacement than my infant piano — and get hooked.