Orchestra’s First Annual Young Person’s Concert makes music accessible and family friendly

Two children watch rehearsal for the “First Annual Young Person’s Concert” in Thorne Hall at Occidental College. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Isabel Liebgold/The Occidental

The Occidental Symphony Orchestra hosted their First Annual Young Person’s Concert Feb. 29 in Thorne Hall. Prior to the concert, the orchestra featured an instrumental petting zoo, giving young students the hands-on opportunity to experiment with different instruments and sounds. The instruments were provided by Charles Music, Bertrand’s Music and Metzler Violins.

At 2 p.m., the concert commenced with Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s “Potpourri (Mit Fantasy)” performed by viola soloist Hyun Gill (sophomore) and the orchestra. Following Gill’s performance, four other soloists — bassoonist Sven Slattum (sophomore), violinist Michael Kwan (senior), cellist Tiffany Kim (first year) and pianist Irene Li (senior) — showcased their musical abilities. In the first half of the concert, Slattum performed Carl Maria Von Weber’s “Concerto for Bassoon in F Major, Op. 75” and Kwan played Henryk Wieniawski’s “Violin Concerto No, 2, Op.22.” In the latter half of the concert, Tiffany Kim performed Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre, Op. 47” and Li performed Frederic Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” The concert concluded with the whole orchestra playing Arturo Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2.”

“The concert is at a family-friendly time, so no one has to get a sitter,” director of instrumental activities and conductor of Occidental’s Symphony Orchestra Chris Kim said. “The more noiser, the better, because then I will know kids are in the audience,”

After flying back and forth from New York to LA for the past two years in order to see his family on the weekends, Chris decided to permanently relocate to Los Angeles to continue his teaching career at Occidental.

According to Chris, students have the opportunity to study with Los Angeles Philharmonic players. In a typical undergraduate institution, Chris said, only students who are music majors can play in the top orchestra, discouraging non-music majors from further pursuing their passion for music. However, Chris said at Occidental, musical opportunities — from taking lessons to participating in the orchestra — are open to all students, regardless of major.

“Music is one of the core tenets of the liberal arts education,” Chris said. “Music should not be treated as an extracurricular enhancement. I love that Occidental is one of the few places that gives a wide palette of opportunity for music and non-music majors.”

Most students in the orchestra are non-music majors, according to Li, a double major in music and psychology.

“Most people are just doing orchestra for fun,” Li said. “You don’t need a background to enroll in the music courses. The professors here are super open to students of all different levels. I think people should try to learn a new instrument out if they’re interested.”

Cello soloist Tiffany Kim (frosh) performing at the “First Annual Young Person’s Concert” in Thorne Hall at Occidental College. Saturday, Feb. 28, 2020. Isabel Liebgold/The Occidental

Like Li, Tiffany Kim views the orchestra as a space for people to share their talents without the pressure of perfecting technique and obtaining a professional level of music education.

“Our orchestra is definitely not as intense as other orchestras. I want people to know that we are a community,” Tiffany said. “We are all friends who support each other. If people join, they would definitely feel included.”

In past years, the Occidental Orchestra existed as an extension of the Caltech-Occidental Wind Orchestra, and Chris said only around 12 Occidental students participated in this joint partnership. He said the low engagement of students in the orchestra was due to the fact that practices were at the California Institute of Technology, which presented transportation barriers. The arrangement is no longer in existence, allowing the Occidental Orchestra to form its own identity, according to Chris.

“I think when you have a joint entity like the Caltech-Oxy Orchestra, people just assume that someone else will take care of everything. The Oxy administration saw the Caltech-Oxy Orchestra as something that was not really a part of the college,” Chris said. “Now the Oxy Orchestra is its own entity with 35 students, the biggest participation yet, but it is still a smaller orchestra.”

In hopes of further expanding the orchestra, Chris said he hopes to recruit students from other extracurricular activities like athletics to join the orchestra. He also said he wants to increase the visibility of the orchestra in the community on both the local and international level. In the near future, he would love to give orchestra students the opportunity to tour internationally, allowing students to interact with locals and play music at different venues.

“The orchestra is a really wonderful group of people. I have a 10-year-old boy, and I hope he has the kind of people around him when he is in college like these people in the orchestra,” Chris said. “I want my students to carry out their love of music for the rest of their lives. I think our society would be better if all people played an instrument.”