More than 4,000 schoolchildren enjoyed performances of Akron Lyric Opera’s Little Red Riding Hood at the Akron Civic Theatre last week, continuing a tradition that the Children’s Concert Society began 65 years ago to enrich children’s lives through the arts.
It’s been a big couple of weeks for the volunteer organization, as CCS celebrated a milestone anniversary season with performances by its Scholastic Composer’s Contest Winners at North High School Tuesday and its upcoming 65th anniversary gala Saturday at Portage Country Club.
The volunteer organization has gone through numerous changes since 1947, when it presented its first Concert Hall event for children with the Akron Symphony Orchestra at the Akron Armory. Over the years, the series moved to the Cathedral of Tomorrow, E.J. Thomas Hall and finally to the Akron Civic Theatre, where the group offers concerts in the fall for grades 4 through 8 and the spring for kindergarten through third grade.
In 1947, students paid 35 cents to see a concert at the Armory. Today, they pay a nominal $5 fee for the Civic Theatre performances.
“No child is denied the privilege to attend. We have scholarships available for children” that are handled anonymously, outgoing CCS President Carol Lewis said. CCS also will pay for bus transportation if schools can’t afford it.
Through the decades, Children Concert Society’s mission has remained the same: To enrich the lives of school-aged children with live, quality music experiences.
“We know that music is a key way for children to learn. We also know for some children, they will never have other exposure to [live] music if we didn’t provide it,” Lewis said.
The group hopes its concerts serve as catalysts for teachers and students to pursue creative music endeavors in the schools. CCS also hopes it’s helping to form future arts patrons.
In the early days, CCS concerts focused primarily on the symphony or ballet. Now they’ve branched out into numerous genres for both in-school offerings and Concert Hall series, including the University of Akron Steel Drum Band for this year’s fall concert.
The four-pronged organization focuses on its concert hall series, free in-school performances, the Scholastic Composer’s Contest and outreach programming — this year a 10-week after-school program at the Akron STEM School run by UA percussion graduate students.
Twelve CCS board members run the programs, providing more than 40,000 children a year with musical experiences, Lewis said.
This year CCS has booked 120 free in-school performances for grades K through 6 throughout the Akron area, including Native American folk singing, dance, opera and numerous University of Akron graduate instrumental groups. In-school booking choices include instrumental, cultural diversity, vocal and dance series.
“There’s almost an in-school concert going on every day in the school year,” Lewis said.
New this year is Cynthia Wulff’s Let’s Make Music Together, which combines guitar music and movement at six local preschools. Wulff is a French horn player for the Akron Symphony.
The number of in-school performances has shrunk in the last five years from a high of 200, according to Lewis. That’s because more school administrators, focused on meeting the state’s core curriculum standards, say they don’t have the time to devote to additional programs, said Lewis, a retired kindergarten teacher from Stow.
“With fewer schools taking field trips, they should be capitalizing on the in-schools” that CCS offers for free, she said.
CCS is always looking for new ways to engage children. Next year, Hal Walker of Kent, who has given mass harmonica lessons and created harmonica flash mobs throughout the Akron area, will be a new in-school performer.
Next year’s concert hall program will include Freedom Brass Band in the fall and something new for the spring: Verb Ballets’ interactive Get Moving Wiggle Words program, which correlates reading with movement.
Music professionals are paid for their performances, while CCS thanks UA student musicians with $22,000 in scholarship money earmarked for students in music programs.
Next year’s proposed budget is $459,115, with the bulk of the funding coming from foundation grants as well as private donations. For the current 65th anniversary year, the GAR Foundation gave Children’s Concert Society a $5,000 matching grant.
In order to keep Children’s Concert Society and its mission viable, the organization is working on building up and diversifying its volunteer board in terms of age, sex and ethnicity. The CCS board is made up of mostly retired educators but members from all walks of life are welcome. The all-female board also welcomes male members.
Annual dues are $100 for board members or $50 for associate members. The organization has one paid staffer, executive director Pat Lehnhart. The board meets at 10 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month.
“We’re just trying to keep it going and we need the next generation to step in, and that’s why it’s so critical to get some new blood,” Lewis said.
Akron native Lewis remembers Children’s Concert Society affecting her life when she was a third- or fourth-grader at Fairlawn Elementary, now Resnik Community Learning Center. As a young piano player, she competed in the Scholastic Composer’s Contest and won a certificate of participation.
“That was kind of like my hook into music,” said Lewis, who set her melody to an Irish poem.
The CCS competition for students K-12 was founded 60 years ago by Ralph Gillman, former head of music education for Akron Public Schools.
Here are this year’s first-place winners, who performed Tuesday and received scholarship awards:
• Resnik Community Learning Center: Mrs. Rhonda Abrams’ class and Mrs. Bernadette Burton’s class
• Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts: Juliette Streeter and Julian Selvaggio
• Firestone High School: Tyler Hawes
• Kent Roosevelt High School: Sidney Raabe
• Our Lady of the Elms: Audrey Smith and Emma Smith
• Evamere Elementary: Margaret Ziyao Chen
• Hillcrest Elementary: Sydney McDonald and Isabella Lin
• Royalview Elementary: Cody Yang
• Hudson Middle School: Serina Ayse Gogusoglu
• Copley-Fairlawn Middle School: Stanley Xiao
• Revere High School: Peter Feher
• Home schooled: Ellen Dietrich
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.