Playing to tiny tots

Children attending the Babies' Prom get to share the stage with the musicians towards the end of the concert.
Children attending the Babies' Prom get to share the stage with the musicians towards the end of the concert.PHOTO: ST FILE

Children swarm the stage for the finale of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) Babies' Proms, taking curious looks at quick- fingered violinists and swopping smiles with the conductor Peter Moore, decked out in a red jacket dotted with colourful music notes.

The SSO has for years been wooing tots into the world of music in a burst of sound, colour and multimedia. Its programmes for children weave in a slew of elements, including storytelling, videos and audience participation.

A hot favourite is its Babies' Proms for children below seven, which returns in November for its 14th edition. Tickets for all five shows are often snapped up within a week of sales opening each year.

In 2008, the SSO had just two programmes for young audiences: the Babies' Proms and Children's Concerts for those aged four to 14.

Now, its offerings for kids have almost tripled and can easily draw up to 12,000 children a year.

The SSO also nurtures budding young musicians through organisations such as the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, which trains schoolchildren aged seven to 18.

Classical music can serve as an outlet for self-expression and self-discovery, says SSO chief executive officer Chng Hak-Peng, 43.

"It's important for us to start children young in appreciating classical music because brain research in the United States suggests that the music you listen to in your early teens anchors your music taste for life," he says.

"We hope our concerts inspire many of these young children to sing or pick up an instrument to become the musicians and performers of tomorrow or, if not, to come back to concerts as music connoisseurs and music lovers - which is an equally important role."

Meanwhile, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) started its children's outreach in 1997 by taking its Tunes Of SCO concerts to schools. In 2003, it started its first ticketed concert for children.

Since then, its children's programmes have evolved to cater to specific age groups. For instance, the Concert For Little Tots series is for those aged two to five and the Young Children's Concert for children five to nine.

The SCO stages 11 ticketed children's concerts annually, which attract close to 7,000 people.

About 40 per cent of the audience for these concerts come from schools and the orchestra has seen schools asking to be placed on the waiting list for sold-out concerts, says SCO executive director Terence Ho, 47.

"Children are always curious and receptive to what they see, hear and experience at a tender age," he says. "This will set their expectations of how Chinese music and Chinese instruments sound like and that they are nice to listen to, when Chinese music is presented to them through fun ways and story-telling formats that engage them."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Playing to tiny tots'. Subscribe