Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Conductor Tammy Vollum-Matturo makes a face during the Link Up concert in Homer on Jan. 15.-photo by Anna Frost

KPO rocks the house

Chock full of puns surrounding how an orchestra can rock — passing out literal rocks to musicians and hauling a rocking chair on stage — the Link Up concert with Kenai Peninsula Orchestra rocked the house in the Mariner Theatre on Friday, Jan. 15. 

Students from McNeil Canyon Elementary, Fireweed Academy and other Kenai Peninsula K-6 schools joined KPO again to take part in an evening of classical music fun. Fireweed Academy also showcased student art at the show with an exhibit of painted musical instrument sculptures, adding to the modern orchestra feel of the evening.

This year’s fourth annual Link Up concert in Homer was the first in the nation to play Carnegie Hall’s newest edition of  “The Orchestra Rocks” from the Carnegie Hall Link Up, said KPO Artistic Director and Conductor Tammy Vollom-Matturro. In previous years, the Link Up concerts in Homer performed “The Orchestra Sings” and “The Orchestra Moves.”

“After I heard the music that would be in (the new “The Orchestra Rocks”) program, I knew we needed to perform it.  Our concerts this weekend were the first ones of the new edition of ‘Rocks,’ which is very exciting,” Vollom-Matturro said. “KPO and Kenai Peninsula students premiered ‘The Orchestra Rocks.’”

With the help of lively host Simon Nissen, a viola player in KPO and music teacher at Kenai Central High School, the show started with laughs from the audience and the children on stage. A line of kindergartners came to the front of the stage to sing and provide an extra dose of cute to the show. On bleachers on either side of the stage, kids armed with recorders played along with the orchestra for several songs. Other songs required their voices, which they provided in the form of both English and Latin lyrics. 

The music in the program moved from showcasing the four instrument groups in the orchestra and playing simple songs that the children joined in with, and grew more complex as KPO musicians showed off their chops with pieces such as Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars.” During these parts, the children on stage also became the audience, but with a much better view of the scene. 

The varied program, all under the same theme of the ways an orchestra’s music can be as powerful and full as that of, for instance, a rock band’s, provided the children involved with a rare opportunity to be on stage with the instruments.

“It is important to expose kids to orchestra at a young age because they begin to have a more complete idea of what music is. What they hear on the radio is just one slice of a very exciting pie,” Nissen said. 

McNeil Canyon Elementary fourth grade student Ava Johnson enjoyed the concert experience for a more playful reason.

“I like that it was really loud and I like the dance part,” Ava said.

Her friend, fellow fourth grader Brianna Miller, added that she liked the way the orchestra played the music.

“I liked how they did it really fast, and slow and calm,” Brianna said. 

For the elementary school kids involved, the chance to see the orchestra in this way could lead to more than just an exciting evening. For those who connect with the orchestra, it could lead to a lifetime of music, Vollom-Matturo said. The formative years in elementary school are when students make choices that can carry far into their future.

“I overheard a very young student last night say, ‘Wow! I love the flute. I want to play the flute just like she does,’” Vollom-Matturo said. “That is why we do this.”

Anna Frost can be reached at

Link Up concert host Simon Nissen sings along with the kids on stage at the Jan. 15 event in Homer.-photo by Anna Frost

Kenai High School drumline members play the maracas as the elementary schoolers and Kenai Peninsula Orchestra members dance and play music that reflects the theme “The Orchestra Rocks.”-photo by Anna Frost