The Times of Trenton
March 16, 2016
Classical Music: Orli Shaham & SO Percussion performing in Princeton March 20
By Ross Amico
It's not just about Bach, baby.
"I think it's important to get everybody involved in the music-making process," says pianist Orli Shaham. "We've kind of lost touch with that fact, that music is something that really we make very naturally as human beings. We don't just listen to it."
Shaham brings her program, Baby Got Bach, to Princeton this weekend, for its New Jersey debut. "Principally Percussion" is pitched to kids 3 to 6 years-old and calculated to introduce beginners to musical instruments, concepts, and the experience of concert-going.
Shaham will be joined by Princeton University's Edward T. Cone Ensemble-in-Residence, So Percussion, for the interactive concert, which will take place at Princeton's Richardson Auditorium on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's a show that's geared towards preschoolers all about music," she says, "and getting them to interact with music, to play some music, to listen to some music, to perform some music, and just in general to raise their enthusiasm levels, if one possibly can do that, about music."
Shaham founded Baby Got Bach in 2010, as a response to her own search for options in music education for her twin boys. "I started the program when they were three years-old. I had this feeling that after those sort of 'mommy and me' music classes that we did, there just wasn't anything that was a real perfect next step, between those and then being old enough to really take instrument lessons or to start attending young people's concerts at the symphony. So I decided to just start my own."
For Shaham, working with musicians of the caliber of those in So Percussion has been a luxury. "To do it with this group, with this high level combination of players has been so wonderful. We've been able to put together repertoire that I think is going to be so much fun for the kids and so much fun for us."
So Percussion is made up of Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting. On top of the requirements of their university residency, they oversee the annual So Percussion Summer Institute in Princeton, providing an immersive and collaborative experience for college-age percussionists. They are also co-directors of the percussion department at the Bard College-Conservatory of Music. As a group, they've recorded at least 19 albums.
"I'll be playing some solo Bach at the keyboard," Shaham says of Sunday's program. "We also have some unusual things, like a transcription of the third movement of the Third Brandenburg Concerto for four percussion players and piano, which will be something you have never heard before."
The concert, presented under the aegis of Princeton University Concerts, will take place on the eve of Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday anniversary.
For Shaham, family and music-making have always gone hand in hand. Her brother is the violinist Gil Shaham. Her husband is the conductor David Robertson.
With Robertson, she recorded a piano concerto, "Stumble to Grace," by Princeton University Music Department Chair Steve Mackey, which grew out the musicians' shared experiences of parenting. The piece undertakes a metaphorical journey that mirrors the development of their toddlers.
"Essentially the concerto traces what it's like from those first tiny attempts at being human," Shaham says, "those first little steps until the child is ready to be running and actually looking graceful – hence, 'Stumble to Grace.'"
The concerto was co-commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (with the St. Louis Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic). For "Baby Got Bach," Mackey composed "Sneaky March," which will be performed on Sunday's concert.
"This has been a huge hit," Shaham says of the piece. "It involves the children waving around colorful silk handkerchiefs and looking incredibly cute and listening to certain cues in the music to know how they should be moving them around."
The audience will also participate in Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" and watch household objects become musical instruments in John Cage's "Living Room Music." American Ballet Theatre dancer Rachel Richardson will join So Percussion for the improvised "Rachel's Dream."
"I found, when my own boys were preschoolers, that if you didn't also include physical activity for them in whatever it was you were doing, you lost them," Shaham says. "So all of our programs, although they do involve also a little sitting and listening, they also involve a great deal of moving around while you listen. It's based on all sorts of different philosophies about music and movement, but my main goal is to get kids to feel that somehow their good listening is rewarded by, for example, getting to do some kind of wonderful move."
Kids are encouraged to stay after the concert to play instruments and "jam" with the musicians.
"Kids are so tactile and need to get their hands and their bodies around things," Shaham says. "I just feel like it's a perfect age to let them know that music is an option. It's an outlet for them; it's a way of communication. The earlier you give them that tool, the more easily they'll be able to use it when they need it."