Peter and the Wolf

By Beth Wise, Assistant Director

Bing Nursery School and Stanford Institute for Creativity and Arts host the free family performance of "Peter and the Wolf" at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium on the Stanford campus.

Bing Nursery School and Stanford Institute for Creativity and Arts host the free family performance of "Peter and the Wolf" at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium on the Stanford campus.

Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra director and Bing alumni parent Jindong Cai collaborated with Bing School to create another fantastic free musical event for children at Dinkelspiel Auditorium this April. The Philharmonia Orchestra’s performance of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf was the third such event Cai organized since beginning the child-oriented chamber orchestra programs in 2007. Previous events include Stravinsky’s Firebird, performed in 2008 by the 90-piece Stanford Symphony orchestra and accompanied by 8-foot-high silk puppets; and in 2007 a performance of dance and music by a visiting Thai ensemble.

This year’s Peter and the Wolf event offered not only music but an accompanying puppet show by The Fratello Marionettes, made possible by a generous contribution from the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts. Bing parent and humorist Firoozeh Dumas narrated, tying the performance together with her engaging storytelling ability.

Former music specialist Beth Wise introduces the story and music of "Peter and the Wolf" to children.

Former music specialist Beth Wise introduces the story and music of "Peter and the Wolf" to children.

Children at Bing prepared for the performance by reading the book, listening to the music, acting out and dancing the various parts of the story. As the former music specialist, I created a poster that outlined all the instruments in the story and the characters they represented. Children were invited into the multi-purpose room to experience and discuss the many elements of the story. Some groups of children drew pictures with pencils and paper as they listened to the music while others simply looked at the poster and the book. Listening to the recording reinforced the musical concepts. Cai noted that on the day of the symphony, when he asked the children which instrument represented each character, they were able to respond in unison with the name of the instrument playing each one.

Familiarizing the children with the story also brought up some questions, which were answered in an age-appropriate manner. Many were concerned about the duck being swallowed and wanted to talk about the fact that it was swallowed “whole,” thus making it possible for it to be retrieved again at the end of the story. Similarly, a very perceptive 4-year-old looked closely at the picture of the wolf and wanted to know why his tongue was hanging out. Upon reflection, children agreed that he could be “hungry,” “thirsty,” “tired” or “hot.” They compared that to how a dog might feel if placed in the same situation. As the story became more understandable, children thought about alternative outcomes for the wolf. Most agreed that he should go to the zoo.

The event took place on April 19 to a full house. Hundreds of families enjoyed the performance. A video is available at http://arts.stanford.edu/sai.php?section=gallery&page=gallery&action=24.

Back at Bing a few days following the symphony performance, one child said, “What I saw was a bird, a cat, a wolf, and cellos, bass, horns and other instruments. The conductor was there. The conductor waves a stick and it tells the instruments to play high or low and they always listen to him.” The smaller music rooms adjoining nursery classrooms in the school were set up for children to enter and listen to the music, read the book and sketch their ideas.

Later at Bing, I provided a set of marionettes for children to create their own plays and puppet shows. A 5-year-old child was especially drawn into the world of puppetry and created his own paper puppets to use in addition to the set of wooden ones. He summarized the experience with an astute recollection of his musical experiences at Bing: “Did you do a show in 2001? The Firebird was good but I am kind of forgetting the puppets. Were they bigger than a tree? Bigger than a statue? Bigger than 10 persons standing on each other? Peter and the Wolf used marionettes. Marionettes sounds like clarinets. Were they the same height as the house? Was the Firebird your first concert? Firebird first, Peter and the Wolf second and what will your next concert be? I would like to see a concert called John and the Monsters. We could have big, huge puppets. Puppets as big as a tree. We could use clarinets, bassoons, guitars, oboes and drums. Peter and the Wolf used violin, kettledrums, bassoons, oboes and flutes.”

Thanks to all the parents who have taken the time to bring their instruments to school, perform with their bands or trios in the classrooms (Michael Flexer, Caitlyn’s father, and the St. Michaels Trio) and at the Bing Fair (Saul Sierra, Sara’s father, with El Tren and friends), and even bring an entire improvisational music class to the atrium (Mark Applebaum, Charlotte’s father, and the Stanford Improvisation Collective). Parents also helped with music and story time at school and participated in the making of the Bing music CD.