Four-year-old Isabella Aull happily danced a jig Saturday as fiddles played a traditional Irish tune at the Lexington Philharmonic's latest Peanut Butter & Jelly Series concert.
It was Isabella's first time attending the PB&J series. But thanks to step-dance classes, she knew exactly when to leap, said her mother, Marisa Aull.
"I think any exposure to live music, especially at this age, is wonderful — and she obviously loves to dance," Aull said after the concert at the Thoroughbred Center on Paris Pike.
Exposing children to live music is the point of the PB&J series, bite-size classical musical concerts held throughout the year at local venues.
Children hear music all the time, but it's usually from an iPod or a television, said Jeffrey Spenner, artistic and education coordinator for the Philharmonic. Knowing how to understand a musical performance is an acquired skill, he said.
"We are cultivating a future audience for ourself, but even more, we're hopefully cultivating an appreciation for the arts in these children, a habit of attending and enjoying live performances," Spenner said.
PB&J concerts last about a half-hour, which is (just barely) within a youngster's attention span. Musicians from the Philharmonic play a song and then stop to explain how their instruments work, what rhythm is, why a melody is loud or soft, fast or slow. Percussion instruments are distributed to the audience so the kids can bash along with the tune. There's an instrument "petting zoo" for hands-on exploration.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are available, as are cookies, courtesy of corporate sponsor The J.M. Smucker Co., owner of Lexington's Jif peanut butter plant. To some children in Saturday's audience, the snacks were the raison d'être, munched to a pleasant soundtrack provided by two classically trained violinists.
"This is not a traditional performance where you're sitting several hundred feet from the performers, they come out, they don't smile, they play something, you clap, and they march away," Spenner said. "We invite the kids to sit right up close and personal and participate."
Saturday was the first PB&J concert for Philharmonic violinist Margie Karp, who performed with Gretchen Tucker. They were assigned the theme of European music. Karp said they built their concert around songs that could be explained to toddlers. For instance, a waltz by Johannes Brahms was introduced as "a lullabye, like you're rocking your baby brother or baby sister to sleep," Karp said.
Karp, who also teaches, said she likes to impress on her young students that for most of human history, live music was all that existed. Unless you happened to own an orchestra, if you wanted to hear a song, you had better be able to sing or play an instrument, she said.
"It wasn't that long ago that nobody had TVs or radios," Karp said. "Music was the entertainment in their lives, and of course, it was all live music."