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Reflections on Tchaikovsky Discovers America

CYSO partners regularly with Classical Kids LIVE! to present their family-friendly productions of stories from the history of classical music. Told with live actors acting in front of an accompanying live orchestra, CYSO orchestras have previously been involved in presenting stories about Beethoven, Gershwin, and Mozart. Our most recent collaboration featured Philharmonic Orchestra led by Assistant Director Benjamin Firer presenting Tchaikovsky Discovers America, which tells the story of Tchaikovsky’s first visit to the United States.

The show was performed three times in this month—first was a series of two CYSO Education Concerts for an audience of CPS students at South Shore Cultural Center on March 21 and a final public performance at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on March 26. Philharmonic Orchestra violinist Laney Kang wrote about her experience rehearsing and presenting the interactive show.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Let’s travel back in time to 1891. Peanut butter had just been invented, Coca-Cola was only five years old, and there was no such thing as color TV, cell phones, or even Taylor Swift. Please welcome our special guest, composer Peter Illych Tchaikovsky!!!!

CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra recently collaborated with Classical Kids LIVE! for their show entitled Tchaikovsky Discovers America, which follows the famed Russian composer, and Jennie, a young American girl, as Tchaikovsky first visits America for the grand opening of Carnegie Hall. The orchestral part consists of 31 excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s most beloved works. When I first received my part, I was thrilled at the opportunity to play these pieces from some of my childhood favorite ballets including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty.

At the beginning of the concert cycle, we mainly focused on perfecting each excerpt from a technical and musical standpoint. Since each selection was fairly short and has a distinctly unique style, we really had to encapsulate the phrasing and interpretation of each excerpt.

Once we started to rehearse with the actors, it was important to be extremely attentive to our conductor. Since a certain amount of dialogue had to fit perfectly within our mini-performances, the orchestra had to slightly alter the tempi of some excerpts in order to suit the performance. Therefore, it was crucial to constantly watch Maestro Firer and follow his artistic decisions.

Since each piece we played was woven into the storyline, it seamlessly incorporated classical music into a fun plot. For example, when Jennie wanted to have a drink of coffee on the train, we played an excerpt of the “Arabian Dance” from The Nutcracker, which is commonly nicknamed the “Coffee dance.” When Tchaikovsky talked about his life in Russia, we played the traditional opening hymn from his 1812 Overture. With its entertaining nature, the show made Tchaikovsky’s music much more accessible to young audiences that a traditional orchestra concert would be. Simply watching this show, kids were exposed to short excerpts from a huge array of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, symphonies, and concerti all at once. By listening to so many excerpts, they are bound to find pieces that they enjoy within the show.

We performed a total of three Tchaikovsky Discovers America shows. On Tuesday March 21st, we performed two education concerts for CPS elementary school students. As the students arrived to watch us perform, we were encouraged to interact with them about the show. We performed on the same ground-level as the audience, so the students were able to easily ask us questions and converse with us. Many of these students had limited knowledge about classical music, and had many questions about our instruments. Creating one-on-one connections with the students helped make the shows impactful and allowed students to immerse themselves in the story.

On Sunday March 26th, we performed the same show for the general public at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. The audience was mainly families with young children, as well as our families! This was a traditional performance where we all played on a stage with a dimmed audience and color-changing stage lights.

Overall, the collaboration was an amazing experience. While we’re used to solely playing orchestra concerts, performing in conjunction with live actors gave was a unique and memorable opportunity for all of us in Philharmonic Orchestra. I had a blast performing at all three Classical Kids LIVE! concerts and I hope that the audience enjoyed our performances!


Laney KangLaney Kang is a violinist in CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra and a member of the CYSO Social Media Team. This is Laney’s eighth season participating in CYSO. She is a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois. Aside from music, Laney trains and competes in dance.

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