Maria Broom is a known quantity. She has appeared on the TV series “The Wire,” “The West Wing” and “The Corner” as well as CBS radio station WJZ News in Baltimore.
But the long-time Baltimore resident most cherishes a different audience: the young children and parents she runs into in public places who exclaim, “You’re from the Music Box Concerts!”
They are referring to concerts sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for babies and children, ages 6 months to 3 years, that Broom hosts. “We’ve learned how much music affects even babies,” she said.
The BSO launched the Music Box Concerts for a short run five years ago at The Music Center at Strathmore. They didn’t continue, in part because the formal venue seemed unsuited for such young audiences. Now the concerts are back again, but this time, they will take place at a new and more intimate venue: AMP by Strathmore.
“We’ve been doing these concerts in Baltimore (at Meyerhoff Hall) or much longer, and they’ve been very successful,” said Carole Wysocki, BSO’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “We definitely saw a need in this area for introducing classical music to babies and young children and bringing more educational activities in general to the community.”
Broom, the original host of the concerts at The Music Center, returns to that role for every program, much to BSO’s delight, said Wysocki. “She’s engaging, and loves the children,” she pointed out. “And the orchestra is really terrific at sharing their love of music. They don’t talk down, and are down-to-earth and contagious.”
Broom is an old hand at interacting with young people, but of older vintage. She has been teaching storytelling and dance in the Baltimore School of the Arts’ theater department for 24 years.
All the concerts have themes, with topics that would interest and delight young children, said Broom. A recent one was called “Bugs.” Each concert highlights a section of the orchestra.
“All Aboard” is the theme for the Feb. 16 season-opening concert that “explores the excitement of traveling to new places,” she added. The BSO Quintet — consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn players — will perform.
“We’re collaborating with Levine Music First — the music school’s early-childhood program — for the first time,” Wysocki noted. Thirty minutes prior to each concert, Levine will present “musical, creative and fun interactive activities for children and the adults accompanying them.”
Each 30-minute concert features a small ensemble of BSO musicians performing classical works and children’s songs — two minutes long — which might include “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or the “Wheels on the Bus.” The concert always opens with “Good Morning to You.”
But if the melodies are familiar, the words of the children’s songs may be different. “We take the songs and create words that fit the theme of each concert,” said Broom. ‘We love doing it — all those little people with their big eyes. Even if they can’t repeat everything, they feel the music.”
Sometimes, the result is immediate and concrete: the young children “sway, tap and even dance,” Broom said.
The one “limitation” is that the concerts don’t exactly parallel “a petting zoo,” said Wysocki. “Children can put their hands in sensory bins to get a sense of the instruments, but can’t touch all the instruments — the violin, for example. The featured BSO players can demonstrate them.
Pairing classical pieces and children’s songs is itself a creative process. In the “Bug” program, for example the orchestra played classical composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebees” along with the “Itsy, Bitsy Spider.”
In addition to the music, Broom talks to the audience –sometimes with amusing results. She recalled telling the children that a classical Hungarian pieces “makes you want to dance. So many children came up to do that that some couldn’t find their way back to their parents. At the next piece, one little girl came up (to dance again), and her mother kept trying to pull her back.”
Still, said Broom, considering the age of these children, there’s “very little running around or crying.” She helps the children focus by always wearing “something colorful” and bringing along a huge rag doll.
“The Music Box series helps children develop musicality, creativity and coordination,” Wysocki said. “It’s a wonderful way for parents to share the joy of music with their very young children. Everyone goes away humming and smiling.”
The opening Music Box Concert will begin at 10 and 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, at AMP by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave., 4th floor, North Bethesda. Tickets are $12 per person, adults and children. For tickets and more information, visit www.bsomusic.org or www.ampbystrathmore.com or call 301-581-5100.