“Sometimes the best ideas are the ones you rip off from someone else,” admits Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia Festival. He’s talking about One Score, One Chicago, the annual program that encourages people to collectively listen to and study the same musical masterwork.
It’s based, of course, on the Chicago Public Library’s citywide book club with the near-identical name. Begun in 2003, it’s intended for everyone, though Kauffman is proud to reveal its secret focus: engaging Chicagoland’s youngest residents. One Score culminates July 31 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a multimedia performance of The Planets, but the organization’s been working with about 75 area K–3 classrooms, through school visits and by hosting a two-piano concert version for 430 youngsters in April.
This year’s One Score selection makes it especially easy to introduce kids to classical music because it brings fun to the lesson plan. For example, teachers can talk to kids about the Greco-Roman mythological influences behind this famous piece of music. Composed by Gustav Holst almost 100 years ago, The Planets comprises seven movements that take their names from each of our solar-system neighbors: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (Sorry Pluto, you lose.)
Although most kids love mythology, Ravinia isn’t ignoring actual astronomy: Come July 31, the concert park’s expansive lawn will be dotted with telescopes staffed by volunteers, giving everyone a chance to peer through an eyepiece after dark. And when the CSO begins playing, the giant screens that typically project a live feed of the musicians will instead show videos, made by the Adler Planetarium’s José Francisco Salgado, that edit together actual footage from space. Using Holst’s score as the soundtrack, Salgado’s awe-inspiring work mixes science with art.
When Kauffman saw Salgado’s short film (all seven parts run about 45 minutes), he fell in love with its “beauty and spirit,” he says. “I thought it was a great combination of old-world astronomical maps plus real-time, contemporary telescope footage. It goes brilliantly with the music.”
One of the most performed works of the 20th century, the evocative Planets is “ground zero for so many science-fiction film scores,” Kauffman says. “It’s instantly recognizable to children and adults alike, even if it’s not exactly what you hear in Superman or Star Wars or E.T. There’s enough familiarity that people recognize the [musical] gestures and signatures.
“It’s great to hear it in a concert hall,” he summarizes. “But there’s something special about experiencing The Planets while you’re sitting under the stars.”
Ravinia’s One Score, One Chicago lesson plan will be downloadable early this summer at ravinia.org. The CSO performs The Planets, preceded by piano improv by Gabriela Montero, July 31.