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New York City
December 2001

The Maestro & the Little Orchestra – Dino Anagnost in Top Form
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

It’s as difficult for organizations as it is for individuals to think business as usual after September 11th, but the fact is that everyone has been adversely affected by the tragedy and by the continuing terrorism that has made New York City for some a place of fear. More than most organization heads, however, Dr. Dino Anagnost, Music Director of the Little Orchestra Society, knows he is in a prime position to make a difference, for if music cannot soothe the savage breast, as the expression goes, nothing can. “Now more than ever,” he says, people need music, none more so than the young. The Maestro is passionately serious about how art can educate minds and move souls. If there are some school districts that have temporarily cancelled field trips, afraid of bridges and tunnels, and teachers who will not be taking classes to Lincoln Center, well, then, the Maestro is poised to take more performers and performances to the schools, which he does anyway.

His dedication is palpable and infectious. A man of expansive manner, an enthusiast who seems never to have lost a childlike sense of discovery and wonder, the Maestro clearly loves what he does. And what he does ranges over an incredible array of interactive music education programs for children and adults. Since commitments are set a year in advance, nothing is being changed because of September 11th , he notes, except perhaps his deepening sense of music as therapy for the “emotionally devastated,” such as the “kids downtown, who have heard the constant sounds of emergency vehicles.” An Anagnost favorite, Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland is obviously going to be playing to babes no longer innocent. To be sure, however, music for the Maestro is essentially neither therapy nor consolation but joy. If music instruction is not fun, he says, his blue eyes beaming wide with playful conviction, it’s not worth the investment. Watching him punctuate the air as he conducts his conversation, one is reminded of that other joyful music communicator, Leonard Bernstein whom he knew.

Artistic head as well as Conductor of The Little Orchestra Society, the dynamic director is also Dean of Music at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of North and South America and a faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University, not to mention being the recipient of numerous international honors from governments, universities, and professional and civic associations. With all that involvement he continues to be personally instrumental in all the programs under his wing, especially ensuring that children’s programs are not redesigned or watered down courses for adults. He and his staff work closely with teachers in the schools on age-appropriate curricula, and if numbers count as evaluation, the programs have been marvelously successful, with waiting lists to get in. Parents accompanying their youngsters usually wind up gleefully wailing, “Why didn’t I have this as a child!” and then sign up for Maestro’s classes for adults – “Vivaldi’s Venice” and “Sound Discoveries,” both longtime favorites that are given at Lincoln Center.

Although the programs are many and diverse, it is the Lollipop series that particularly claims the Maestro’s heart because working with 3-5 year olds can have immediate and significant influence. Helping children learn how to listen is an incredibly important skill that goes way beyond music education, he points out. And encouraging them to hear rhythms, recognize passages and delight in classical sounds cannot be done by watching TV. Interactivity is essential. Hand in air, like a baton, he coaxes a telling figure out of his memory bank: one district in Harlem with 15 years associating with the Little Orchestra Society wants to expand, heartened by the fact that its participating K-6 group tested higher on standardized exams. Typical? Who knows, except that listening skills are obviously transferable and the earlier they are inculcated, the better.

ý new program in the Lollipop concert series particularly delights the Maestro –- the Kitchen percussion group, he calls it, and indeed the idea seems wonderfully imaginative –- a competition between a regular general kitchen and one where lids and pots and pans are noticed for their pitch. The Maestro suddenly shifts keys to extol Mozart for eight-year olds in the “Happy Concerts for Young People,” a series for ages 6-12, where he gets kids to create a score with the audience. Then there is Mozart the child, who greets youngsters in his own period clothes, writing music (in German of course), but very fast to show how quickly he composed! And isn’t that 11-year-old sitting at the piano Mozart’s sister? And, lo, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn appear, giving off some subtle resonance about the role of women in the music world then.

Many Little Orchestra activities take place at Alice Tully Hall and are for adults, including programs to introduce audiences to neglected works and composers. A special desire is to generate appreciation of 20th century American music and he does so by exploring the genre most people know — movies. With scores from the likes of Korngold, Shostakovich, Copland, Virgil Thompson, Bernstein, Villa Lobos, Bernard Herrmann (who did the music for Citizen Kane). And so it goes, with a good admixture of cultural and personal lore that helps bring modern music into the entertainment mainstream.

The 60-member Little Orchestra Society, founded in 1947 by Thomas Scherman, has been directed by Dino Anagnost since 1979. Concerts and outreach activities extend from October through June and cover close to 20 different kinds of programs, including Cathedral Concerts and Lollipops in New Jersey, and Project 65 for seniors. The underserved could not be better served . . . and at reasonable prices. For further information about The Little Orchestra Society call (212) 971-9500.#


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.