Colorado Symphony supports early education development with STARS program in Beaver Creek

Mini Música features a 16-piece orchestra and a narrator who sings and dances in English and Spanish.
Courtesy photo

For decades, the Colorado Symphony has supported early childhood education literacy initiatives. On April 30 at 12:30 p.m., it continues to do so at the Vilar Performing Arts Center with a 16-piece orchestra, bilingual narration, song, dance and reading event for kids pre-k to second grade.

“For many of them, it’s the very first time of walking into a venue and seeing a big stage,” said Breanna McCaughey, the Colorado Symphony Association’s director of community education.

Colorado Symphony’s musical story times began with now-retired cellist David Mullikin, who joined the Colorado Symphony in 1973. He created story pieces for small ensembles to perform with a storyteller. They included: “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “The Emperor and the Nightingale,” “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “Tunji and the Giant” and “The Ugly Duckling,” the latter of which will charmingly waddle its way into VPAC Tuesday.

The Colorado Symphony returns to the Vilar for the second time in 2024 with a special performance for little ears.
Courtesy photo

In 2020, the Colorado Symphony added new storybooks and a bilingual component to its educational concerts for young children. The books, which kids take home after the concert to continue to read and recall the performance, feature original illustrations. A bilingual narrator guides kids through the storybook as musicians play pieces composed specifically for a particular story.

The books allow kids to trace letters or participate in other literary skills as the narrator theatrically tells each part of the story, alternating between both English and Spanish.

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“The storybooks have gorgeous illustrations that can keep them engaged. Afterward, they can read and remember (things like) the duck was the clarinet … when the characters are talking, they are represented by different instruments,” McCaughey said.

If you go…

If you go…

  • What: STARS Colorado Symphony Mini Música: The Ugly Duckling
  • When: 12:30 p.m. April 30
  • Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center
  • Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for children
  • More info:

The tone of the music also changes as the story transpires. For example, somber music accompanies the sad ugly duckling but transforms to happy music when the duck gains hope.

“The kids love it,” she said. “There’s this interactive and engaging element that I think is really fun for them. There’s always something for them to look at, and they play along with instruments. They become enraptured in it. There’s something for everyone.”

The approximately 45-minute performance begins with 20-25 minutes of shorter songs, which warm kids up, followed by the featured story. The first half invites kids to sing and dance. For example, “Buenos Dias” includes various movement elements. The afternoon entertainment ends with an encore of “Baby Shark.”

“We end on a high note, certainly,” she said.

Though the performance delivers plenty of entertainment, its main purpose revolves around introducing young children to live orchestral music and its instrumentation, both of which can support learning.

“An early start and access to the arts is extremely important. A lot of these kids leave the concert saying, ‘I want to play the violin’ (or another instrument),” she said, adding that education is one of the core values of the Colorado Symphony. “It helps develop students’ minds. Singing songs helps kids remember and learn … and (benefits) language development.”

The performance exposes kids who predominantly speak English to Spanish and vice versa.

“We get a lot of positive feedback — it’s great immersion for learning English and Spanish,” she said.

The symphony’s Mini Música program stands out from other early education initiatives by combining a 16-piece orchestra with interactive dancing, singing, storytelling, a take-home storybook and a bilingual narrator explaining, and acting out, the story.

“Put that all together, and it’s an extremely unique program that can bring a lot to any student or family,” she said. “There are a lot of different components to draw them in. I think anyone can be a musician, and by being as accessible as possible, we can give that inspiration to kids. Music has so many positive aspects,” she said, pointing to how it helps kids listen more diligently, promotes teamwork and benefits intellectual development. “The beautiful thing about getting kids into music is how it can support their learning.”

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