Audiences can expect some new faces at the Missoula Symphony Orchestra's annual Family Concert this Friday.
The 11th annual tradition brings guest actors and a guest conductor. The actors are Michael Boudewyns and Kimberly Schroeder of Really Inventive Stuff.
The Portland, Maine-based troupe specialize in kid-friendly classical concerts. Holding the baton is their regular collaborator and guest conductor Steven Jarvi, most recently an artistic director at the St. Louis Symphony.
The MSO has selected two pieces for the hourlong show, "The Story of Babar," and "Tubby the Tuba," that will entertain families with serious craft and a friendly presentation.
What's the trick to engaging children in a concert hall?
"I think one of the most important words that comes to mind is just 'sincerity,'" Jarvi said. "Kids can smell fear like bees, and smell insincerity like a rotten egg."
If the performers give it their all, then the audience will sense it.
"I'm in this to have a great time and express myself as an artist, whether I'm performing Mahler Nine or 'Babar the Elephant.' I think when the audience feels that from the stage, they are given permission to enjoy something with this much sincerity," he said.
Boudewyns co-founded Really Inventive Stuff in 2004 with Sarah Valentine. They were inspired by "open, honest storytelling" in the vein of "Sesame Street," "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Jim Henson, Bill Irwin and more.
They use simple props: hats, old suitcases, coat-racks and more, to develop a playful, theatrical way to tell a story that engages children's imaginations.
It's similar to the way composers tell stories using instruments, Boudewyns said. Think about Prokofiev's use of specific parts of the orchestra to represent different animals in a colorful fashion in "Peter and the Wolf."
"An oboe is an oboe and a duck is a duck, and so we just use things we think are inspiring," Boudewyns said.
Schroeder, who toured with the Missoula Children's Theatre in 2004-05, said the simple props work similarly.
"Using a hat to represent an entire character, and that is very captivating to younger audiences because they're immediately triggering their own imagination with it. That's something that they respond to immediately with the work that we do," she said.
The two pieces they'll perform have a contrasting feel.
"The Story of Babar," by composer Francis Poulenc, tells the famed elephant's tale with impressionist, evocative music, Boudewyns said.
George Kleinsinger's "Tubby the Tuba" has the brighter tone that viewers will expect.
Jarvi said that Boudewyns puts just as much research into his work as any other collaborator.
"His research was as in-depth as anything I've ever done, and that most historians would have done.
He has a thorough understanding of the composers and their lives, the context in which these pieces were created, and the way to bring them to life," Jarvi said.
The public concert will take place on Friday at 7 p.m. Earlier in the day, they'll perform for about 4,000 fourth-graders from Missoula and beyond.
"It's about storytelling and heart and a connection to real music-making. And I think it draws the audience in no matter what your age, in a kind of awe-inspired childlike wonder that's just perfect for everything in the arts, let alone storytelling," Jarvi said.