The Saturday morning family show of Boise Philharmonic's John Williams' pops concert may have been an answer that would have satisfied both Esther Simplot and NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman on the subject of arts education.
After a speech earlier this summer during which a visiting Landesman spoke of the importance of arts education in the granting process, Simplot—the arts maven after whom the cluster of buildings which hold the heart of the city's arts district is named—asked: "I understand the importance of education, but why can't we fund art just for art's sake?"
Had the two been among the audience Saturday—the largest audience this series of family-oriented shows has ever garnered—they would have seen arts education at its best. And they might have even taken away a conclusion similar to BW's: that funding art for arts sake is itself a part of education, even if there's no overt lesson present in the teaching.
In front of a nearly packed house, many of whom were squirming children dressed as pint-sized Princess Leias and storm troopers, Franz led the orchestra dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi (the Ewan McGregor version) in a program of Star Wars music old and new, the E.T. theme song and a piece from the Harry Potter series. Between songs, Franz, as is his wont, turned to the audience and asked questions. What movie was that song from? Why did Obi-Wan Kenobi fight Darth Maul? With each question, dozens of tiny hands darted into the air, eager to answer.
And with each question, the barrier between the audience and the performers steadily eroded. That casual presentation style coupled with music that an under-18 crowd easily recognized made the show one of the most accessible fine arts performances I've seen in Boise. At one point, the roughly 5-year-old girl in front of me said in a very loud and excited voice to her father, "Hey, I know this song." It's the stuff arts education dreams are made of: gifting young children with an appreciation for the fine arts through poignant ah-ha moments.
Certainly Franz's natural tendency toward hamminess on stage was a large part of the show's success, as is the ease with which he casts off the typically stuffy airs of symphonic music in favor of Hollywood. And it also helped to have the orchestra's members themselves play along, some of whom also dressed for the occasion in costume, and all of whom played along unaffected by Franz's antics as he and Darth Vader played a game of cat and mouse on stage during the "Imperial March."
While much of the show was targeted at engaging the audience's youngest members, one lesson wasn't lost on the adults: Whether you play dress up or get dressed up, whether the music is the "Duel of the Fates" or "The Rite of Spring," bringing young audiences into the fold is essential but doesn't require a big fancy grant.