After the Omaha Symphony’s family concert last March, most musicians headed home or to dinner, or perhaps to a freelance gig. Not assistant principal bassist Bill Ritchie. The longtime Scouter walked down the hall to teach the Music merit badge alongside principal tubist Craig Fuller, a former assistant Scoutmaster.
“I’m already there,” Ritchie says. “I just bring my Scout shirt on Sunday, switch gears and start the workshop.”
The symphony’s annual merit badge workshops, which Ritchie and Fuller have led since 2002, are about more than convenience. They’re also about bringing a badge to life in ways that wouldn’t be possible at a troop meeting or summer camp.
You can build a similar program around a concert in your community. Here’s how:
Although Scouts don’t have to attend a live concert to earn the badge — that’s one of several options in requirement 3 — a concert connects neatly with several other requirements for the badge.
Depending on the type of concert Scouts attend, they’ll see and hear most of the families of musical instruments (requirement 2) and be exposed to several people who have been important in the history of American music (requirement 3d).
“We try to pull in the composers of the music they’ve heard,” Fuller says. “Of course, it depends on the concert, but most family concerts have some John Williams, so we talk about this iconic film composer a bit.”
John Williams was indeed on the program in March. The orchestra played “Flight to Neverland” from Hook. The pirate-themed concert also included Reinhold Glière’s “Russian Sailors’ Dance” and an orchestral version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
“Family concerts introduce them to our cornerstone classical composers such as Mendelssohn and Holst but also some more familiar, contemporary selections,” says Liz Kendall Weisser, the Omaha Symphony’s education and community engagement manager.
Family concerts often include several styles of music, which can help Scouts see the commonalities among different genres.
“We talk about how the symphony instruments are the same instruments you hear in jazz,” Fuller says. “You play the instruments the same way in jazz as you do in classical; it’s just the music itself that’s a little different.”
Not every requirement connects to the concert experience, so the Omaha Symphony asks Scouts to complete requirement 4 at home and bring proof to the workshop.
Many, Ritchie says, choose to make their own instruments (requirement 4c).
“Some of them are clever; some of them are simple,” he says. “You can tell if someone’s really put some work into it.”
And years later, you can tell if the workshop has had an impact. One of Fuller’s students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where he teaches tuba and euphonium, completed the workshop several years ago.
“He told me that it had an influence on him going on to become a musician,” he says. “That was pretty cool.”
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