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This article by Elaine Strauss was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 4, 1998. All rights reserved.

Kids’ Mix: Music & Arts

The weekly children’s talks at the Princeton University

Art Museum are a perennial favorite that need no shoring up. A long-term

commitment of the museum, the free Saturday morning programs have

used densely packed and historically correct material to make art

irresistible. Docents lure large and enthusiastic groups of children,

ages 5 to 10, into the world of fine art by tailoring their well-researched

talks to catch the imagination of the youngsters. Recent programs

have focused on masks and origami, Egypt, Valentine’s Day, and landscapes.

By the end of April the talks will have covered Robert Rauschenberg,

Native Americans, Claude Monet, and children in art.

In a Saturday, March 7, presentation called "Feeling the Spirit:

American Music in Art," the series goes beyond its usual boundaries

and, for the first time, incorporates music into the consideration

of art. Frances Fowler Slade’s Pro Musica chamber choir joins docent

Anne Florey in the program. The musical performers consist of 12 gifted

singers from Slade’s 120-member Princeton Pro Musica. "These are

some of the best voices in the chorus," Slade says. "Some

of them are young professionals, whose names are not yet household

words. Because they have such good voices I like to feature them as

soloists." An electronic keyboard supports the chamber choir.

In the absence of an acoustic piano, such an instrument is a worthy

substitute. "We have done a lot of performances for kids before,"

says Slade, "and know that their participation is necessary."

The program originated with Pro Musica, who presented

the idea to the museum. A delegation from Pro Musica, along with a

team of docents, including Florey, explored the museum, looking for

the right spot for the program. Both the material in the gallery,

and the acoustics had to be suitable. "The security force wasn’t

used to visitors trying out the galleries for sound," Florey remembers,

"and they sent a note inquiring what we were up to."

The group settled on the American gallery, with its varied selection

of art, and its excellent acoustics. "The American collection

is ideal from a programming point of view," says Slade, "because

we can do a variety of folk songs, spirituals, and sea chanteys."

"One can find a story in all paintings," says Florey. "We’ll

focus on are landscapes, or portraits where you can figure out what

people are like by what they’re holding in their hands. The audience

will see the connection between what artists do and what musicians

do."

The climax of the program is a stop in front of the large painting

of Mount Adams, in the state of Washington by Albert Bierstadt, who

lived from 1830 to 1902, and celebrated the American outdoors in his

work. "It’s so grand," Florey observes. "When western

expansion was taking place, people wanted to see their country. Bierstadt

painted his Mount Adams when Washington was still a territory. That

type of painting played a role in promoting interest in the West,

and in national parks. When Congress got interested in the area, Bierstadt’s

painting helped make it vivid, and helped promote statehood for Washington."

Mirroring the majesty of the painting, the chamber choir will sing

"America the Beautiful" as the audience soaks in the view

of the sunlit mountain and the horses in the field below.

Collaborators Florey and Slade have in common their education at two

of the Seven Sisters Colleges, their residence in Princeton, and considerable

savvy about dealing with children. Born in Atlanta in 1949, Slade

is a Wellesley graduate. She earned a master’s degree at Northwestern

University, and did graduate work at Rutgers. Her interest in doing

performances for children is partly self-interest.

"We’re all well aware that we have to engage young people if we’re

going to have future audiences," she says. Partly, her interest

in doing performances for children is missionary work. "Young

people think that the only music worth hearing is pop," she says.

"Rarely do they get a chance to hear good singers. I want to show

them that you can have fun with music." Finally, her interest

in performing for children is a matter of artistic satisfaction: "

When kids enjoy something," she observes, "their response

is so much more direct than that of adults."

Founder of Princeton Pro Musica in 1978, Slade saw it grow into a

chorus of 120 volunteer and professional singers, a chamber chorus,

and a professional orchestra that presents four or five performances

a season.

Future events in the current season, its 19th, include a performance

of Johann Sebastian Bach’s "St. Matthew Passion on March 28 and

an a capella concert on June 13 with music by Bernstein, Brahms, Copland,

and Martin.

Florey, born in New York City and reared in northern New Jersey, earned

a bachelor’s degree in history from Smith College the year that Slade

turned five years old. Immediately after college, she went to Gap,

in the south of France, to teach conversational English at the Lycee

de Jeunes Filles. It was a time in her life, she says, when she imagined

that the last thing she would want to do was go into teaching. "I

thought at first," she says, "that Gap was the end of the

world, but I was impressed by the students who came from small villages

and boarded at the school. They worked at a high level, and we had

a lot of fun. I was so impressed that I came back and got a master

of arts in teaching at Harvard. I was really intrigued by what you

could do."

After teaching American history at Westfield High School, Florey took

off a decade to devote herself to her family, reducing her teaching

involvement to the occasional substitute teaching day. Once she felt

that the demands of her children had declined sufficiently, she taught

history and art history at Stuart Country Day School, where she also

served as chair of the social studies department. Her academic scope

at Stuart was broad. "I taught all kinds of history," she

says, "mostly grades 9 through 12. My ninth grade course covered

the ancient world, in Greece, Rome, China, and Japan, and included

a lot of art, although it was not considered an art course. I also

taught an advanced placement course in modern European history starting

with the Renaissance. And I did a history of western art, including

modern art, with the art teacher."

Wittingly or not, Florey was preparing herself to become a docent

at the Princeton University Art Museum. After she stopped teaching

at Stuart in 1988, she joined the docent program, where she has served

as Docent Association Chair, and as Coordinator of School Programs.

Florey’s children, Peter and Andrea, attended Princeton High School,

where Peter played cello in the orchestra, and Andrea participated

in vocal music. Now 39, Peter lives in Long Island. Andrea, 36, lives

in Connecticut. "She’s my advisor as far as young people are concerned,"

says Florey. Daughter Andrea trained as an elementary and nursery

school teacher, and has two daughters, ages seven and four. Florey’s

husband, Klaus, is now retired from his position as head of Analytical

Research at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Following the example of his wife,

he has become a docent at the Art Museum.

It is easy to imagine that docenting works its way into

the dinner table conversation at the Floreys, and to guess that Klaus

already knows about the high points of children’s programs that Anne

sketches out. Programs in the Art Museum’s programs for children are

well attended. The recent program on Egypt drew 30 children and 30

adults.

Anne Florey describes some of her favorite museum presentations. Early

in the fall, a program on still-lifes had children looking for ants

and bugs in still-lifes in the museum collection. The children then

spent well over an hour making their own still-life arrangements,

and drawing them with crayons. Florey would have liked to exhibit

the children’s creations in the museum, but there was not enough space.

Instead, she took photos and made them available to participants the

following week.

Another Florey favorite was aimed at helping the children understand

cubism. The children looked at cubist art, and came to know that cubism

converts three-dimensional forms into two dimensions. Children confronted

the specific problem of flattening a milk carton. One of the child

suggestions was having a truck drive over it. Then they were shown

a flattened milk carton, and another flattened milk carton cut into

pieces. The children receive cut up milk cartons and bright colored

paper so they could design their own cubist work. Florey is pleased

that all of the children’s cubist works turned out to be dissimilar.

To get them started Florey showed them her own dismantled milk carton

reassembled in a cubist design. "I showed it to give them an example,"

she says," but I put it immediately away. I want them to explore,

not to copy."

"I hope that music will bring the gallery to life for the kids,"

Florey says. "We’ll focus on the connection between the feelings

of the paintings and the feelings of the music." She is ready

to tie together the creation of music by Slade’s Pro Musica group,

with the capacity of the people depicted in the paintings to create

music. Docent Florey is no stranger to music. A violinist, who participates

in chamber music, she has tracked the appeal of musical programs at

the University Art Gallery. "Whenever we have adult programs that

include musical groups," she has noticed, "people arrive even

when something very competitive is going on."

Florey’s respect and circumspection when it comes to children color

her planning of programs for the young. "I like to have kids talk

about their reaction to the paintings. In her portrait Hannah Boudinot

holds a poetry volume in her hand. We know that she liked poetry,

and liked to read it aloud. And we know what the kids think of this

lady."

Florey takes an indirect approach to finding out how children react.

"You can have definite questions in mind," she says, "but

you can’t totally plan. Kids see things we don’t. They have reactions

that are fresh and wonderful. You devise questions, you don’t lecture

to children who are 5 to 10 years old. You let them discover. You

ask questions that don’t have single right answers." The questions

have to be cleverly devised to be suitable for a range of ages.

Florey’s approach dovetails with that of her musical colleague Slade.

"A performance for children has to be really good," Slade

observes. "Kids are tougher audiences than adults. They just won’t

pay attention if a performance is not good."

— Elaine Strauss

Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788. "Feeling

the Spirit: American Music in Art." For K through 5. Free. Saturday,

March 7, 11 a.m.


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