About 150 kids from James Simons Elementary School occupied the front sections of the Charleston Music Hall at 9 a.m. on a recent Tuesday to get a morning dose of big band jazz music. Another 150 sat behind them.
A wave of 500 middle schoolers arrived at 11 a.m., replacing the younger students who left for the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry across the street.
The Charleston Jazz Orchestra played enthusiastically, soloists taking turns from the bandstand, and Quiana Parler added her seductive vocals. The kids in the seats couldn’t keep still. Some danced in place, others stood up.
The outreach, largely funded by sponsors, was organized by Jazz Artists of Charleston and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. This inaugural Jazz Day for Kids brought students to the Music Hall from Charleston County Title One and charter schools.
The purpose was to expose young people to the big band experience, stimulate their interest in music and perhaps motivate some to take up an instrument, said Charlton Singleton, music director of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.
“A lot of these kids have never seen a live band,” he said. “Some have never seen these instruments, some have never been in this theater. ... Somebody out of this group is going to get some sort of inspiration, maybe just one kid, but that’s success to me.”
The band performed arrangements of tunes from popular children’s movies and TV shows. Since there was a piano on stage, Mayor John Tecklenburg showed up to play it and to talk with the students at both sessions about the importance of music as a form of expression and the history of jazz in the Holy City.
Mary Beth Natarajan, executive director of Jazz Artists of Charleston, said this was the jazz version of field trips so many students took to hear the symphony orchestra.
In conjunction with the jazz at the Music Hall, the Children’s Museum opened its Swing! exhibit on Tuesday, inviting students to visit.
“Our new Swing! exhibit is an interactive space that uses music, movement, manipulatives and mentoring experiences to introduce children and their families to the rhythms, history and cultural influence of jazz through guided play and materials exploration,” Executive Director Nichole Myles said in a statement.
“Swing! focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education experiences which correlate to enhanced brain development and life-long executive functioning, including the ability to think both creatively and critically, problem solve, and collaborate.”
The Children’s Museum also has developed a jazz-oriented curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom.
TeRaya Dingle, a teacher of primary Montessori students at James Simons Elementary School, said the jazz experience was a thrill for the kids, many of whom don’t often get such opportunities.
“It told them they can do that, as well,” she said.
Asked to rate the experience on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most fun she’d ever had), 6-year-old Scout, sitting in the front row, didn’t hesitate.
“22,” she said.