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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Orchestra Reaches Out With Its Magic of Music

For MTAfter a concert, a Russian National Orchestra musician giving a child from the Magic of Music program first-hand experience.
It's a gray and rainy afternoon in the development office of the Russian National Orchestra, but bright colors and fanciful posters decorate the plain white walls. One poster shows a child's watercolor painting of a young boy making friends with a gentle-looking wolf. Another depicts bright flowers. Yet another shows a peaceful scene in a birch forest.

The posters are reproductions of paintings created by handicapped children who participate in the RNO's Magic of Music outreach program.

Created in 1996, Magic of Music is unique in Russia because it is an integral, permanent part of the RNO's mission and requires several full-time staff members to implement. Alevtina Bassunova, RNO development coordinator, said that while other orchestras offer children's tickets to special family-style concerts, the RNO is the only Russian orchestra to have developed an educational outreach program that helps handicapped youths.

Seven institutions currently participate in the Magic of Music program, including five orphanages and two special schools, as well as the regional organization Vsekhsvyatskoye, which assists more than 90 families with handicapped children. The children involved in Magic of Music all suffer from mental retardation, learning disabilities or disorders affecting the muscular-skeletal system, including cerebral palsy -- and sometimes more than one of these conditions.

Unfortunately, with the economic upheavals following the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia's strong tradition of arts education has also suffered. State-run institutions for mentally and physically handicapped children no longer have access to adequate resources to provide children with life-enriching exposure to the arts.

Since the RNO is not state-run, it has more flexibility in the programs it can offer. Founded in 1990 by pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev, the RNO was Russia's first private orchestra. Financed by the contributions of private and corporate investors, it operates along the same lines as Western nonprofit performing arts organizations.

Given such conditions, the Magic of Music program provides a valuable educational service to deserving children.

"The children's teachers have noticed that when the children listen to classical music, it has a calming effect on them," said Yelena Udachina, the program's coordinator. "They become more docile, and it's easier to work with them. They become more perceptive and more actively interact with their surroundings."

Magic of Music has served more than 600 children in the past seven years, and the program has grown to include arts and crafts activities, meetings with RNO musicians and annual concerts.

Musicians from the RNO's outreach program visit the children and perform such children's favorites as Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker."

After the concerts, the musicians meet with the children and allow them to experiment with playing various musical instruments. The one-on-one contact plays an affirming role in the development of the children's self-esteem.

The program also has an impact on the musicians. "It is a very good experience for our musicians to learn about music therapy," Bassunova said.

During the concerts, the children are encouraged to express themselves creatively by painting and drawing their musically inspired thoughts and feelings. "The program provides the children with a new outlet for artistic expression by combing music with painting," Udachina said. Art supplies for the children are donated to the program by a local producer of watercolors and other paints. The children's artwork is then entered into the program's "How I See Music" art contest.

The contest is held each year in December at an RNO concert. The children's artistic renderings are displayed during the concert and RNO audience members vote for their favorite pieces.

Also integral to the Magic of Music program is the annual Sugar Plum Fairy Ball held on New Year's Eve. The ball includes music and dancing, and every child receives a gift. The artists whose compositions won the "How I See Music" contest are awarded prizes.

Throughout the school year, program participants go on field trips to some of Moscow's architectural and cultural treasures, including the Glinka Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery, where RNO musicians play for the children -- an experience that provides stimulation for the eyes as well as the ears.

Plans for the coming season include an array of new projects, including concerts and storytelling for children confined to their beds or wheelchairs, as well as a collaboration with the Nastenka Fund, a Moscow charity that provides support for children suffering from cancer. The RNO is also speaking with the cultural affairs sections of various embassies about the possibility of staging month-long exhibitions of the children's pictures in embassy buildings and ambassadors' residences.

To make a donation to the Magic of Music program or for more information about possible collaborations with the program, please contact the RNO development office at 504-0781 or 504-0784. Additional information is also available on the RNO's web site: