Countywide : At Age 20, Music Mobile Still in Play

It was the year that Bill Gates founded Microsoft, stamps sold for 13 cents and disco was the rage. It was 1975, also the year that the Music Mobile began visiting Orange County schools.

The Orange County Philharmonic Society, which recently celebrated the van’s 20th anniversary, has used it to familiarize more than half a million third- and fourth-graders throughout the county with musical instruments.

The van demonstrated the reason for its staying power Thursday as 50 children from Ralph A. Gates Elementary School in Lake Forest learned about, listened to and played dozens of musical instruments.

“It’s very fun, because this is the first time our class has been able to touch things,” said fourth-grader Brittany Johnson, 9, after she banged a pair of cymbals. “It’s really cool. When you go to a museum, they tell you not to touch anything.”


Philharmonic Society spokeswoman Annette Eliot attributes the Music Mobile’s success to the fact that it’s a hands-on program.

“It’s interactive, and it has everything the children need to learn,” Eliot said. “They see, they hear, they touch, they feel.”

The Music Mobile is supported by 165 volunteer docents. It costs $10,000 a year to send it to more than 200 public schools and about a dozen private ones.

As the children sit cross-legged in front of the French horns, snare drums and violins, volunteer docents demonstrate how the instruments are played. The children learn that bigger instruments such as the tuba create low sounds, while smaller instruments such as the trumpet create high sounds.

After a 45-minute lesson, the children are invited to play the instruments. The resulting sounds are not exactly symphonic, but fun to produce nevertheless.

“Really good,” pronounced Elliot Rowe, 9, after playing the cello. “The best assembly I’ve ever seen.”