Big Read goes on musical tour for preschoolers

This month marked the 10th anniversary of the NEA Big Read at Hope College and in the Holland community, with events tied to this year's Big Read, Middle Read, Little Read, and Mini Read books. Together, there were more than 120 exhibits, concerts, lectures, book discussions, and outdoor adventures.

For the youngest readers, the Holland Symphony Orchestra, the Herrick District Library and the Big Read partnered to create the first Mini Read Tour. 

A Herrick librarian and a quintet of HSO musicians traveled to preschools and kindergartens to perform for more than 500 people over the course of the 10 programs over two days. 

“I only heard positive comments from all the places we visited, and many people expressed the wish that it would happen again next year,” says Sarah Bast, who coordinated the tour on behalf of HSO. She’s an HSO board member and chair of HSO’s education committee. 

The mini-read is the sing-along book “The More We Get Together,” by Celeste Cortright and illustrated by Betania Zacarias. The story is about a diverse group of children who work together to make their urban neighborhood cleaner, friendlier, and safer. 

Readers can sing along as the community bicycles and recycles together, volunteers at an assisted living home, participates in a letter-writing campaign, and finally gathers around a potluck meal.

Adding music to the Big Read

Bast came up with the idea after going on a field trip with one of her children last year to a Big Read event.

“I thought there was an opportunity for the Holland Symphony Orchestra to get involved. It made sense since we were partnering with the library,” Bast says. 

She approached Hope College Professor Deb Van Duinen, the program director of NEA Big Read Lakeshore, and Van Duinen was enthusiastic about the idea. This is the second year that the Big Read included a book targeted for the youngest readers.

“It was just a perfect fit for the symphony because the book already had music,” Bast says.

HSO musician Greg Bassett, who plays the French horn, created a music program to complement the book's lyrics. In addition to the children’s song “The More We Get Together,” he found three other songs that fit with themes in the book, then found brass quintet arrangements of them. They played Fred Rogers's theme song “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” “A Bicycle Built for Two,” and “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Each song fits a different theme in the book.

In addition to Bassett, the quintet included Greg Alley and Ken Austin on trumpet, Lisa Honeycutt on horn and Doug Olmsted on tuba

Anne Pott, children's librarian, narrated the program. The students participated by singing the lyrics in the book as she read. During breaks, Bassett and the other musicians introduced themselves and talked about their instruments.

HSO and the Big Read paid for the musicians and Herrick covered the cost for its librarian. 

Excited young audience

The 30-minute program was hosted by First Presbyterian preschool, Lakeside Montessori and Outdoor Discovery Center Seedlings, Wayland preschool, Dorr Township library, Black River kindergarten, and Zeeland Early Childhood. A  performance was held at Hope College so the public could attend.

Bast said the feedback was "completely positive, 100%. Everybody just really loved having us. It just worked really well to go to them, especially for this age group.”

Cortright, the book's author, found out about the collaboration and was excited, Bast said.

"She was thrilled first of all to be chosen as the Mini Read book, and then also happy to hear that there's a whole kind of program built around her book," Bast says.

Adding music to the storytelling drew in the kids, Bast says.

"They're all paying attention, enjoying the music and the back-and-forth with the musicians. There was a lot of laughter, especially when the brass players demonstrated how low their instruments could play. The kids just were amazed by that and also thought it sounded funny. It was cute to hear their response."

HSO will collaborate with the library at the North Side Branch in February for a performance of “Ferdinand the Bull” with a string quartet.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.