Community Music and Arts Festival at THEARC

Catherine Carney | 3/24/2010, 9:44 a.m.

The sounds of music along with the laughter of children filled an arts center in Southeast and attracted both the young and the young at heart for a day dedicated to music and dance.

The festival, hosted by the National Symphony Orchestra, kicked off with performances by young Levine School of Music students in the morning, followed by a children€s concert that featured National Symphony Orchestra violinist Marisa Regni. Dubbed €The Teddy Bear Concert,€ the young audience at this event was encouraged to bring their stuffed animals, and become visually involved in the music through accompanying images provided by artist Marie Cheek.

Hundreds of visitors traveled from near and far to be part of the festivities. Some just dropped in when they noticed the goings-on.

€We€re from the area, so we tend to just come through and see what different events are going on here,€ said Terrence Townsend, 36, who was there with his son Hezekiah Townsend, 6.

€We started at the playground, and we saw they were having this event, so we came in,€ the Southeast resident said.

Toward mid-day, the festival broke into an array of different activities, on two floors, including face painting and two very popular clown balloon artists.

Lines formed in areas around the building as excited children waited for their turn to paint, play instruments, eat, or receive a ballon in the shape of their favorite animal.

At the Instrument Petting Zoo, children of all ages were allowed to touch and play with a variety of instruments including trumpets, trombones, drums, violins, cellos and harps. As the children visited the different instrument stations, they received basic instruction from the National Symphony Orchestra volunteers on the correct way to hold and play the instruments, and then were allowed free reign to make their best attempt at playing the instruments themselves. For many, it was their first interaction with the musical instruments.

Hezekiah Townsend tried playing several instruments, including the violin and autoharp.

€I actually play the tuba, but he doesn€t play any instruments. Right now I€m just trying to see what he might be drawn to, what his interests are,€ his father said.

€This is a project that the Women€s Committee of the National Symphony has been doing for many years,€ said Rita Shapiro, executive director of the NSO.

€The goal is just to get kids to try different instruments, and hopefully they might find one they want to play. And when the parents see them play and how much fun they are having, that helps too.€

The festival ended with another concert, featuring the entire National Symphony Orchestra, as it played several child-friendly tunes, including pieces from Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and Harry Potter.

The pieces were accompanied by the work of students at THEARC -- singers from the Boys & Girls Club and dancers from The Washington Ballet performed and a slideshow of student work from the Corcoran ArtReach program was displayed. A full orchestral rendition of the musical tale Peter and the Wolf was included in the concert, with Ysaye Barnwell, of Sweet Honey in the Rock, narrating.

Afterward, families poured out of the building into the warm afternoon, tired but happy, balloon animals waving in the sun.