Saturday morning, April 10, a musical portrayal of a young penguin’s incredible journey, played to an attentive audience of young children and grown-ups alike. Onstage at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord sat a young woodwind quintet who calls itself the Sirocco Winds. For the better part of 20 minutes, they took turns telling a story and playing their instruments.
This pleasant and welcoming little piece brought smiles to many faces including mine and that of my wife, who was the main reason for attending this special children’s program presented by the Concord Chamber Music Society. My wife is something of an authority on penguins, as she was deeply moved by March of the Penguins and completely swept away by Happy Feet. There are now plenty of stuffed penguins throughout our home; there is also a penguin mobile and a life-sized plastic replica named Chilly Willy, to mention just a few.
Stanley’s Flight enchanted. It began with warm exclamatory puffs of sound and ended with soothing, dreamlike harmonies. Quite a climax came over midway through when Stanley got himself into a bit of a pickle. “Crashing, crashing, crashing” over and again, now with the flutist speaking rhythmically, then with hornist, and so forth. All players told the story, each taking a sentence or two at a time. When not being storyteller, each, once again, took to the instrument. Well-paced reading and playing kept this journey moving along quite jauntily, with never a dull moment.
Stanley, a young penguin, dreams of flying and one day figures out how to do it. The story came with unexpected turns, seaweed, pigeons, and a trash can lid with strings attached are some of the highlights that will have to suffice as clues. The music, too, was inviting with its child-like tone painting of the story. Both story and movie-like score were written by Michael Glicksman. A gentle sense of wonder pervaded his piece.
The Sirocco Winds introduced themselves before Stanley’s Flight. To further demonstrate the features of his instrument, the bassoonist played a phrase of music then asked the children if they recognized it (Peter and the Wolf). Many more raised their hands when the hornist played a phrase from Star Wars.
Following the main presentation, children asked some surprisingly tough questions. Why are all of the instruments different? Why do you have to read the music instead of playing it from memory? What’s it like to be onstage? Next came a bubbling wind quintet rendition of Rigaudon from Le Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel that fit perfectly into the program. And after that, children and grown-ups alike gathered on the stage with the young, welcoming musicians to get a closer look at the instruments and pose some more questions.
The Sirocco Winds were completely at ease working with one and all. They were warm and welcoming. We were informed that this performance of Stanley’s Flight was their 2oth! From our vantage point, it certainly shouldn’t be the last, far from it. The quintet’s members are: Anne Gregory, flute, Mary Lynch, oboe, Christopher Watford, bassoon, Andrew Mee, horn, and Ambrose Tucker, clarinet.
A further note: Anne took up the flute in middle school because she thought it had a pretty sound. Mary took up the oboe because she was told it was the hardest instrument to play and that is what she wanted to play—the hardest instrument. Christopher came to the bassoon after wanting to learn saxophone and being told that there were plenty of those already. It was Ambrose’s grandfather whose clarinet got him started on that instrument. With such a special introduction to music and its instruments, one wonders how many children there at the Emerson Umbrella might be inspired to take up an instrument.