Teton kids are the luckiest. They grow up with clean air to breathe, expansive forests to explore, mountains to climb, rivers to float, a loving community devoted to nourishing their bodies and minds — and the Grand Teton Music Festival.
Jackson Hole’s classical music institution has over the years offered programs for its youngest audience members, but for its 2022 season it has pulled out all the stops. Family programming this summer starts this week — a week earlier than the festival’s regular schedule — with the first sessions of Monday Musical Adventures, led by the festival’s first-ever education curator, Meaghan Heinrich.
The full festival orchestra then convenes July 3 for a free family concert followed by the ensemble’s traditional free Fourth of July “Patriotic Pops” program. And orchestra members have signed up to play free “On the Road” recitals in the county’s libraries, parks and other fun places.
Monday Musical Adventures are new this year. Intended for little ones from newborn through age 5 and their caregivers, they will start at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on four Mondays through July 18 in the Greenspace on the Block on East Broadway.
“Older kids can come along,” said Heinrich, who returns to the valley this week from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to implement programs she has refined and expanded after some experimentation last year. “But the activities are based on my work with early childhood education. It’s different from what I’d do in a preschool classroom. It includes caregivers, so there are fun things to do with the adults.”
That includes singing games, musical instruments to play with, shakers and drums, “and lots of creative movement with recorded music and songs I play on my ukulele,” said Heinrich, who compared the 45-minute sessions to Music Together classes that have been offered here in Jackson Hole for years.
Parent and caregiver involvement is a major part of the musical adventure.
“Many parents of young children want to do musical activities at home but don’t know where to start,” Heinrich said. “So we’ll provide the experience, in a community setting, with children and families, but also give ideas of things to do at home.”
Sessions follow themes like “farm animals” or “vehicles” or “summer,” but each is different, so families may want to come more than once. And the adventures are drop-in, no registration needed, so even passers-by can sit in for 10 or 15 minutes or for the whole jam.
“On the Road” programs will be a tad more formal, with members of the orchestra performing selections that show off the characteristics of their instruments or demonstrate aspects of music and music-making.
Returning is the Huckleberry String Quartet, which played in 2021 and is back with a new “The Power of Music” program.
When other festival players saw how much fun the Huckleberry Quartet was having, Heinrich said, they decided to get in on the action, too, resulting in a Low Brass ensemble of three trombones and a tuba, a percussion ensemble, a wind quintet and several other offerings.
“Last year, we had never done any of this,” Heinrich said. “We just put some things together and gave it a try.” That ended up being pretty OK, she said. “So we’ve taken everything we learned from last summer that was successful and worked together all through the year.”
For example, last year the string quartet performed at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
“But at that time, I didn’t know anything about the space or the organization,” Heinrich said. “So we set up a performance that didn’t tie into the museum.”
Now that she has had a chance to tour the museum and get to know more about its mission and its collection, this year’s On the Road concert there will be tailored to the space and the audience they expect to meet there. Same with performances planned for the Senior Center of Jackson Hole and elementary-school-age day camps.
The Big Daddy of music festival outreach is its annual family concert, which this year is slated for July 3 on the Center for the Arts lawn. The full festival orchestra will be led by resident conductor Jerry Hou, of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, with Heinrich hosting “An American Adventure” program of favorite and familiar names along with some less-known composers.
Last year, she said, the orchestra mostly pulled works from coming weekend concerts. This year a lot more planning has gone into it.
“We want it to be about American music, wanted to look at what does American music look like now,” she said. “We’re accustomed to hearing and seeing the same things — Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa — and we’ll have some of that, but we’ll also have music by Black and Latino and female living composers to show this audience that American music means people living in America today and now and writing stuff that expresses the point of view of different types of people.”
With her pink- and purple-dyed hair, Heinrich was a hit with kids and families last year. An oboist herself, she teaches the instrument at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and also teaches early childhood music and serves as an elementary school music teacher in three Milwaukee schools. As such, she brings considerable forethought and insight to the festival’s outreach programs.
“For me, I think it’s about achieving balance,” she said of what makes a good family concert. “Younger audiences don’t have the same attention spans as adults — children’s brains are still developing, and they need a change of scene, a change of pace, need to do more than be told about the music and then listen.
“I try to strike a balance between teaching, listening and interacting,” she said. “I try to be very intentional about what I ask children to listen for in a piece of music.”
Often that’s a sense of storytelling, where you close your eyes and envision something. Other times it’s a question to ponder, like, “If you were watching a movie and this music was playing, what would the movie be about?”
“At the other end of spectrum from directed listening is movement,” Heinrich said. “I always have a couple things for kids to move to, whether that’s dancing or set choreography or otherwise interacting with the piece. Like, when I point to you, clap three times.”
Most important, she said, is keeping kids engaged — “You have to make sure there aren’t periods of times where you lose them. ... Three slower pieces and they’ll get bored and wander off” — as well as adults. “If they feel it’s just for kids, they’ll feel like they’re just baby-sitting.”
In addition to outreach programs, Heinrich also will lead pre-concert talks for three orchestral programs in July — “They’re keeping me good and busy this year,” she said of her festival employers — before heading back to homeward to play chamber music on Washington Island, off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula.
Go to GTMF.org for more on the festival’s outreach programs and for the complete season of chamber and orchestra concerts and other events. ￼