Hundreds of area school children rock out with the symphony 

The audience was anything but quiet at Friday morning’s orchestra concert at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, and they were up out of their seats quite often. But the musicians in the SEK Symphony, their conductor Raul Munguia, and the emcee Cooper Neil liked it that way. 

“The whole idea was to link the stage with the audience and get students excited about music,” said Munguia. 

He’s an assistant professor in the Pittsburg State University Music Department and is known for innovative approaches by the symphony – comprised of students, faculty, staff, and a few community members — in an effort to break down stereotypes and attract a broader audience.  

A few years ago, he led the group in performing “Rock to Bach” at the Kansas Crossing Casino, entertaining the not-so-typical audience there with tunes from Pink Floyd and Queen.  

For Friday’s concert, he collaborated with Neil, a two-time graduate of Pitt State and the Pittsburg High School instrumental music director, to coordinate an immersive children’s experience.  

Concert cooper

It was funded by a Link Up Grant from Carnegie Hall in New York City that provides a 45-minute curriculum for young concertgoers. The theme: “Orchestra Rocks.” 

The effort attracted 900 third, fourth, and fifth graders from each elementary school in Pittsburg, Riverton, Chetopa, and Chanute, whose teachers said they were glad to be able to provide their classes something so memorable and impactful so close to home.  

Concert Bicknell

In his over-the-top emceeing, Neil encouraged the children to all participate by clapping and stomping various rhythms under his guidance, and to sing along with three Pitt State vocal music students, guided by lyrics projected to the screen above the musicians.  

University students in the symphony introduced the children to the various instruments in an upbeat and energetic way, Munguia added humor to his conducting, and no one was “shushed” for being too loud. 

Concert Vocalists

Also participating was the Pittsburg High School drumline, which wound through the crowd playing cadences one might see in a parade or football game. The drumline chose three students from the audience — Aurora Cole and Gracie Basauri Medina, from Lakeside Elementary, and Allyson Tyler, from Meadowlark Elementary, to accompany them onstage and try their hand at conducting the symphony themselves. 

“It was very exciting and full of energy,” said Morgan Kalm, a teacher from Lakeside. “The students were engaged the entire time, and I could really tell that this experience sparked some interest in the arts.” 

“One of my students even said, ‘I loved the drum line!! I couldn’t wait for them to start as soon as I saw them when we got there!’” 

“Overall, it was a great experience for us all.” 

Shawna Witherspoon, who coordinated the staffing and technical aspects of the concert for the Bicknell Center, summed up the experience as the busloads of children departed:

“This is something they’ll remember when they’re my age.”