story and photos by Brittany Ransom
Three thousand area students descended on the Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith on Monday (April 28) for the 11th annual EARQUAKE! concert event.
Hosted by the Fort Smith Symphony, the concert series is designed to foster music appreciation at an early age and encourage students to take part in fine arts.
The EARQUAKE! Educational Concert Series is presented each year to area sixth graders from seven counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Participating districts included Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma, Greenwood, Hackett, Waldron, Poteau, Heavener, and several others, with a total of seven counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma represented.
Several private schools, including Montessori, Christ the King, Immaculate Conception, and Saint Boniface, were also in attendance.
Students were treated to performances of popular classical music, consisting primarily of fast tempo, thunderous selections designed to keep students engaged and excited. To further enrich the experience, educational study guides and excerpt recordings were provided to the participating schools beforehand to foster music-related activities in the classroom and prepare students for the concert.
Between songs, Symphony Conductor John Jeter explained a bit about each section of musicians, asking individual members to demonstrate their instruments. According to the Symphony, "a major goal of EARQUAKE! is to provide an extension for school-related music education instruction and to increase the number of students participating in school music."
The program targets students at the time schools begin scheduling orchestra, band, and chorus for rising seventh graders, and participants in the program are often encouraged and inspired to choose one of those activities.
"Since starting the program, we have had many schools tell us that they have seen an increase in the number of students participating in band, choir and orchestra," said Dr. Sandi Sanders, director of development with the Fort Smith Symphony. "We are pleased that it is having a positive impact."
Originally scheduled for Feb. 3, EARQUAKE! was postponed due to winter weather. Organizers decided "the show must go on" and rescheduled to ensure that local sixth graders didn't miss their chance to hear the symphony.
This year's event included a morning and afternoon performance, with both shows drawing a packed house. With attendance increasing from year to year, organizers are looking to expand the event.
"We have had so many requests from schools that we are adding a third concert next year," said Sanders. "It is exciting to see such an interest."
For more information about EARQUAKE! or the Fort Smith Symphony, visit the Symphony website or call (479) 452-7575.