Promoting a Love of Classical Music through Educational Opportunities

The Cleveland Orchestra has been a jewel in Cleveland’s crown since its inception in 1918. Recognized internationally as one of the world’s best orchestras, the Cleveland Orchestra is poised to celebrate 100 years as a cultural institution with deep roots in the Cleveland community.

Throughout the past century, the Orchestra has exposed literally 4 million children to symphonic music, in its effort to foster a love of music and a lifetime involvement with the arts. Through its community engagement programs, the Orchestra brings classical music events into a different neighborhood each year, from Gordon Square to Hough. To further encourage classical music education, free concert previews are presented an hour prior to the performances at Severance Hall. For an even more in-depth look at the music in upcoming concerts, anyone can participate in music study groups, led by Dr. Rose Breckenridge.

Armed with a Ph.D. in Music from Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Breckenridge began sharing her musical insight with the study groups in the mid-1980s. During her tenure, she has expanded and upgraded this Cleveland Orchestra community outreach program, currently presented throughout greater Cleveland in partnership with community organizations at various public library locations.

The Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra started the music study groups in 1921 and they have continued from that time. In 1994 the Orchestra’s Education and Community Programs Department took on the direction of the program with continued support from the committee (recently renamed The Friends of the Cleveland Orchestra).

The music study group mirrors the fall, winter and spring sections of the yearly Cleveland Orchestra schedule. You can sign up for any combination of these sections. Each class meeting runs 90 minutes and explores one program from the Orchestra season, for the most part synched to prepare you for that week’s performance (Orchestra travel and holidays occasionally tweak the alignment). Even if you don’t plan to attend many or any performances during the season, the class serves to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for classical music.

The flow of each lecture starts with a featured piece from the program. First comes an introduction to the composer’s life, including personal, cultural, historical, and musical context. This holistic view illuminates the music as a reflection and embodiment of the its era and creator. Next, we examine some of the ideas around the style and form of the piece. Then we take off on a guided tour of the actual music.

Dr. Breckenridge negotiates with great success the line between keeping attendees with musical backgrounds fully engaged and not turning off or intimidating “newbies” to classical music. When she takes the class on a “musical tour” of the piece, her approach is clear: “Musical themes are like a play with characters who are developing as the music flows. I try to play excerpts of the main musical characters in the play and then show the drama of the developing music. So I’m kind of like a tour guide, pointing out the significant things to help follow the piece better when the class is later actually listening to the performance.”To support the lecture and create reference material for the students, Dr. Breckenridge researches and assembles a Listening Guide, a wire-bound book with essays on the featured work and clips of the musical themes from the piece.

This year the class is available at four locations: Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, and the Beachwood, Fairview Park and Orange branches of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. If you sign up for the music study group, you’ll be joining conductor Franz Welser-Mӧst as he leads the Orchestra into its second century with a renewed commitment to music education and community engagement. You’ll likely find that the more you know about classical music, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of the performances at Severance.


The Cleveland Orchestra Music Study Groups




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