Everyone knows that playgrounds are tons of fun. You can run, jump, slide, swing, climb, and just monkey around. But what if one day you went to a playground with a different kind of equipment – equipment you could use to trill, toot, and bang out a beat? That's what some Boston-area kids did earlier this month at the Instrument Playground, an occasional event put on by volunteers from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
At the Instrument Playground, music students and amateur and professional players let kids touch, handle, and play a variety of the musical instruments that make up an orchestra. This time, there were eight types of instruments ready to cause a ruckus, including drums, French horns, and violins.
The percussion – or drum – station is always a favorite, says Victoria Aschheim, a percussion student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and the New England Conservatory in Boston. A volunteer with the Instrument Playground since last year, she says that kids love to beat the drums.
First-grader Jeremiah Hainline wouldn't argue with that. Of the six instruments he tried out, the drum was tops on his list. Why? Because "it sounds good," he said.
Jeremiah hopes to take drum lessons someday. His big sister Lucy piped up to add that Jeremiah already has a drum at home. So he's on his way to achieving his dream.
Besides a tenor drum, kids could play a tambourine and a glockenspiel (pronounced GLOCK-en-speel) at the percussion station. The glockenspiel (also known as "bells") looks similar to a xylophone, but the bars are made of metal instead of wood.
At the next station, Lucy Hainline, a third-grader, showed up again. And she found her favorite instrument – the trumpet. It's hard to sound off on a trumpet because you have to pucker your lips and blow just right to make the horn toot. But Lucy was a success. She confessed that she liked trumpet most because "I got good sound out."
Although the trumpet can be tough to toot, kids as young as 3 have been able to make some pretty good noise on it, says Casey Reeve. He's a student at the New England Conservatory who has volunteered a few times at the Instrument Playground.
Mr. Reeve's bright eyes and easy laugh prove that the playground isn't just fun for kids. Grown-ups like him have a blast, too. "I love to see the smiles on [kids'] faces," he said. "That really makes me happy and makes me remember why I do this."
Second-grader Noam Watt sure had a smile on his face when he talked about the trumpet. He, too, thought the sound was terrific – but more because it was loud than because of the unique tone of the brass horn.
He also liked the trumpet because, "My dad ... played it a long time." If he had to take music lessons, though, Noam would choose to play the violin – mostly because he's been able to watch his brother, Jonah, a sixth-grader, play the instrument for the past three years.
Fourteen-year-old Aaron Watt wasn't tied to just one particular instrument, as his brothers were. He tried out the drum, but what he's really interested in is singing and conducting. He admires André Rieu, a Dutch violinist and orchestra conductor. And Aaron likes conducting along with Mr. Rieu when he performs on TV.
The Instrument Playground isn't exclusive to kids who've never had formal music training. Although Sophie Applebaum is only 10 years old, she's been playing the cello for five years already! That didn't stop her from having a great time trying out all the other instruments.
No doubt Sophie was a whiz at the cello station. What she particularly enjoyed, however, was playing the French horn. She said the cello sounds basically the same no matter how hard or softly you press on the strings as you draw the bow across them. "But with the French horn," she noted, "there are different pitches depending on how [you move your mouth when you blow]."
Karen Wacks, who headed up the French horn station, had almost as much fun as Sophie. "It's really great to watch kids find their instrument," she said.
Ms. Wacks teaches music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Music therapy is the practice of using music to help people with physical or mental challenges. She loves the Instrument Playground because it gives kids an opportunity to discover a natural ability to play a certain instrument.
If kids don't "find their instrument" on their first visit to the Instrument Playground, they can always come again – and many do. Several families had attended the event at least twice.
Volunteers keep coming back, too. Murray Burnstine and Bil Lewis, who manned the clarinet station, have been volunteering for the Boston Symphony Orchestra – and the playground – for years.
Mr. Burnstine is a professional clarinetist. Dr. Lewis, on the other hand, commented, "It's stretching it to say I 'play' the clarinet." He actually works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., but he likes to fiddle around with the clarinet. He said he knows just enough about the woodwind to help out at the playground.
Dr. Lewis shows that to participate in the Instrument Playground, all anyone needs is a free-spirited sense of fun and a willingness to try new things.
Maybe you already play an instrument in your school band or orchestra. Maybe you'd like to start taking lessons. Or perhaps you just like to listen to music.
Whatever the case, if you ever have an opportunity to take a crack at playing a bunch of new instruments, take advantage of it! You never know what you'll discover about yourself and what you can do.