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Review: Music Evolved by Classycool (UK)

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Music Evolved

Performance details: Music Evolved is a classical music concert for children aged 3 and up. Performed By Classycool UK, presented by Act 3 International, April 21 – 29, 2012.
Performance watched: 11 am show on April 28, 2012

I was ecstatic to find a classical music event that my preschooler could attend since tickets to the SSO Babies’ Prom always seem to be so elusive. We managed to buy great seats (Row D, four rows from the front, and right smack centre) at 20% discount ($25.80 each).

Music Evolved promised to be an interactive, theatrical and educational experience with dancing, singing and comedy infused. In a nutshell, it promised to present ‘classical music in an unclassical way’.

About the Performance – a brief description

Members of the string quartet were dressed in snazzy colours of black and electric blue, with the female members dressed in a polka-dotted black-and-white top with single cream flowers in their hair. While looking quite smart, the colours were rather subdued for a children’s performance and that seemed to translate into the performance energy as well.

The start of the concert was a simple dim-light, enter musicians, music starts playing  and a ‘Hello’.  Not very intimidating, but neither was it very creative, or exciting. Audience members were first introduced to the cast (or musicians?) and their respective instruments. Being a classical string quartet, there were two violinists, a violist and a cellist.  A little musical education about the pitch of the instruments was slipped in at this point – How does the violin play? It plays high? The cello plays low. What about the viola?.

The day’s performance, which was an hour long, was  framed as a musical adventure through time for us to find out about music of the past. We ‘time-travelled’ back to 4 different musical eras spanning the last 400 years. Each of the cast took turns to narrate and lead the various segments.  We were first brought into the court of Queen Elizabeth the First during the Baroque period with the music and dance of the royals ( I cannot find the proper spelling of the piece – it sounded like Porvan.) and Pachelbel Canon no. 8. Then we moved into the Classical period with Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca. We eased into the Romantic period with Ravel’s Bolero and finished with a classical interpretation of the groovy 1980s (at least I think it was that era since I thought I heard Michael Jackson’s name). As a non-musician, I do wish they had provided us with a printed copy of the performance pieces, and names of their composers. I had to use my limited knowledge to google these names and pieces.

My Review

So was Music Evolved ‘really cool’ as promised? Well, not really. Did Music Evolved have ‘a lot of dancing, singing, comedy and…music to the ears’? Well, not really either. There was a lot of music to the ears, some attempt at dancing, a little less singing and just a wee bit of comedy.

Each member spoke well (they’re  from the UK) but not all were engaging. Musical facts of history were communicated quite succinctly. However, I did feel that for younger members of the audience, there was just simply too much talking. With the publicity hype, I was anticipating a real theatrical treatment of the entire performance. Given that it was not an ideal, intimate seating, the  production could have still capitalized on the space and technology to make the music and whatever history they were talking about come alive. Lighting design like projections of royal court elements could have cast during that segment to add depth, visual variance and interest. It would have been good if photographs of the composers had been shown too.

Transition devices used by the cast were very simple – one type of moving gobos, light dimming, cast moving in circles on a darkened stage to symbolize travel through the time tunnel.  While this concert is definitely not as ‘stuffy’ as the usual classical music concerts, I did think that it could be a lot more interactive and fun. I did feel the audience getting rather pumped up towards the end of the performance with the audience activities, but for the large part, it was a rather languid affair.

Audience interaction and participation came in only about 40 minutes into the performance – thankfully so too! A child was asked to go onstage to hold two signs – ff (fortessimo – very loudly) and pp (pianissimo – very softly)and use them to control the volume of the quartet’s playing. While not  terribly exciting, that was enough to break the monotony  and enliven things. The most fun bit for everyone seemed to be the groovy period where the time travel machine broke down whilst coming back to the present, and we all got to do a bit of clapping and singing. This ‘clap and sing after me’ activity was simple, no-mess but thoroughly engaging.

If only there had been more audience interactivity in the earlier parts of the concert could have broken the monotony of the performance. A friend’s 3.5 y.o. was battling shut-eye by mid-performance.  Mine is an atypical boy as he’s always been able to sit through performances but he also seemed rather bored by the performance after some time. Kudos to the musicians for staying up on their feet, jumping along as they played but after the first 15 minutes, those movements did get a little repetitive.

Worth The Time & Money?

Given that it’s $25 a pop, located at the other end of the island for me and I don’t drive, I would probably not pay to watch it again. (But if it were a children’s theatre performance like Mermaid’s Theatre Hungry Caterpillar or A Brown Bear, I would gladly go that distance. )

I have only watched only one other classical music for children concert, but that was by a Portuguese group in Macau. That took on a more intimate theatre-in-a-round format with only 30 – 40 parent-child pairs. So really, I have nothing by way of comparison for the quality of the work so I’m just really speaking from my own experience and preferences.

We did enjoy it, but it didn’t blow our minds like how some great children’s theatre pieces have.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy classical music because I do. But for a children’s concert, I think watching a free performance at the Esplanade or Botanic Gardens is probably more fun for the kids, and good enough for a musical exposure.

Did you watch Music Evolved? What did you think?

Have you watched other classical music concerts for children?
Do share with us what they’re like!

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