GO Arts: A pirate bassist, an elephant pianist and picnicking teddy bears star in UPS Jacobsen Jr. classical music concert

Staff writerFebruary 25, 2014 

Tacoma bass player Chris Burns, who'll debut Duane Hulbert's new piece for kids, "The Pirate Musician," Saturday at UPS.


Watch out, kids: Take up learning the double bass and you just might end up kidnapped on a pirate ship. At least, that’s what happened to Tacoma bassist Chris Burns – musically, anyway. The Tacoma Symphony bass principal will appear in “A Musical Storytime,” the annual Jacobsen Jr. classical concert for kids this Saturday at the University of Puget Sound, garbed in pirate gear to perform the world premiere of a piece just written by concert organizer and UPS piano professor Duane Hulbert: “The Pirate Musician.” It’s all part of a concert aimed at hooking kids into classical music through stories.

Along the lines of Jon Deak’s “B.B. Wolf” and other pieces that tell a story as the bass player speaks lines while playing music, “The Pirate Musician” is narrated by “Steely Fingers Jack,” a bass player who was kidnapped from his conservatory studies to entertain pirates in between looting and pillaging escapades. The music includes plenty of witty musical quotes and tone painting (music for fights, music for counting loot), with breaks for the bassist to narrate a funny tale written by Hulbert’s wife Judy. The Tacoma pair has collaborated on many classical pieces and musicals for children.

“Judy was inspired when she read that pirates liked to kidnap doctors and musicians to provided need “services” on board,” says Hulbert. “Of course, most musicians forced into service played instruments like fiddle, flute or accordion. We thought it would be funny if the musician played the biggest instrument of the orchestra: the double bass.”

“It’s a really fun piece,” says Burns, who says his seven-year-old daughter has gotten a kick out of hearing her dad practice. “Musicians are actors a lot of the time, telling stories with music. To be actually acting the part of a character and playing at the same time is great.”

Both Burns and Hulbert also point to the real need for new, inventive and engaging classical music for children.

“It’s vital that there are new musical compositions for children,” Hulbert explains. “If we make music fun for kids, we could have musicians, or concert goers, for life.”

Burns points out that watching a new piece come to life is a great experience for kids. “It gives them an entrance into music that’s really special,” he says, “not just hearing the same old pieces over and over.”

The rest of the Jacobsen Jr. program is equally inventive and character-driven, including Poulenc’s narrated piano solo “The Story of Babar the Little Elephant,” a string quartet version of Offenbach’s “Can-Can,” “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and another new composition, “The Pied Piper of Jazz,” with Hulbert’s son Neil as the jazz trumpet soloist improvising to tell a New York version of the folk tale also written by Judy Hulbert.

We carefully select our program to demonstrate as many instruments as possible, hopefully giving kids in the audience their “aha!” moment” in choosing an instrument, Hulbert explains.

Only now they know the piratical possibilities of the double bass, choosing might be even easier.

The Jacbosen Jr. concert “A Musical Storytime” is at 3 p.m. March 1. $10/$5 ages 5-18/$25 family/free for UPS students. Schneebeck Concert Hall, University of Puget Sound, 1700 N. Union Ave., Tacoma. 253-879-6013, tickets.pugetsound.edu

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

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