Jennifer Wheeler, director of education for the Plano Symphony Orchestra, wanted to create a concert series that was family-oriented, educational and interactive to teach children about how music can tell a story. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, finding a way to create an interactive concert was not an easy task. But the light bulb went off in Wheeler’s head when she realized she could incorporate a storyteller to go with the orchestra. 

Gwen Caldwell, a professional storyteller, told Wheeler about a story she created called “A Girl Who Has No Story,” which is about a little girl who doesn’t know how to tell stories, sing or play an instrument and feels like she has no way to express herself. However, through a series of adventures, she learns how to tell her story through music and picks out an instrument to play. 

And from that story, the Plano Symphony Orchestra’s “Storytelling Through Music” family concert series was born. They performed it in Frisco first in March, but it’s now coming to Plano this Sunday. 

The 45-minute performances are tailored for families with kids ages 2-12. The Sunday performance features the brass and percussion families to teach children how music can set a mood or even define a character by using songs from “Frozen” and “Star Wars” and other well-known classical works. 

Wheeler said her idea behind the concerts was to show how songs can portray a lot even without words. For example, it can define a character like Darth Vader or help you understand what’s happening without words like Felix Mendelssohn’s classic “Wedding March.”

“I thought this theme would be a great way to introduce both popular movie music and classical music to young children,” Wheeler said. “With Gwen’s help, I have woven classic music into her story with a series of cues to establish characters and events. It has been a really fun project.”

The Plano Symphony Orchestra performing the “Storytelling Through Music” family concert series in Frisco in March. | Courtesy of Jennifer Wheeler, director of education for the Plano Symphony Orchestra

For the interactive part of Plano Symphony Orchestra’s concert, Caldwell asks the kids what they think happened based on the music and what it means. In this way, Wheeler said the concert can still be interactive without bringing kids up on the stage as they would normally do. And various instruments, like the trumpet and tuba, are introduced at different points during the concert.

And this kind of concert is unique — aside from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” there aren’t many concerts that incorporate a storyteller, Wheeler said. 

Because of COVID-19, seats are limited. Wheeler said they have about a 25% capacity at the Plano Courtyard Theater, which is where the concert will be held. They’re selling 110 seats out of the over 400 seats in the courtyard theater. Marked lines and ushers will help facilitate social distancing, and masks are required. Musicians will have their temperatures taken, but patrons will not. 

The concerts will occur on Sunday, April 18 at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Plano Courtyard Theater — 1509 H Ave. To get tickets for the first showing at 3 p.m., click here. To get tickets for the second showing at 4:30 p.m., click here

The second family series concert will be at North Texas Performing Arts Plano at The Shops at Willow Bend on May 2 and will feature the woodwind and strings families, along with a student narrator and dancers, Wheeler said. Another performance of the second family concert series will be held in McKinney in May as well. 

“I mean, we’re just happy to be back on the stage, honestly,” Wheeler said. “Because there are so many groups that, financially, it doesn’t make sense. But we’re so determined to at least have something out there so we can fill our halls again. It was really important to us to still provide this content.”

To keep up with the Plano Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concert dates and locations, visit their website by clicking here.

Bailey Lewis

Bailey Lewis is a content journalist at Local Profile. She recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma and served as The OU Daily's news editor and enterprise editor. Previously, she was a summer...