Musical theater for the very young

Within musical theatre for the very youngest spectators, there is not yet sufficient experience to be able to speak of various trends or to reliably say which forms are relevant for this target group. For this to happen, interest and enthusiasm about this genre must take hold in a new generation of composers and musicians. Experimenting in this area has only just begun. With our festival and symposium, we hope to fuel further momentum here. Besides presenting pieces that work primarily through musical media, we also want to experiment beyond them and spark exchange. Ideally, new contexts for this work, ideas and plans for further research and productions will emerge.

Relevant questions arising from the Happy New Ears Kongress that we wish to continue exploring in the framework of the FRATZ Symposium are: Firstly, how does one compose for very young children? How complex is music allowed to be when its listeners are a target audience without any cultural educational background? And secondly, what is the relationship between music and other artistic media, especially narration and the visual arts? Can music control the other senses? When can we add stories and images to compositions without departing from our inner musical world? Do we remain abstract? Where does the visual interfere with the auditory experience?

Two Research Laboratories, each consisting of three artists from the disciplines of composition, music and play explore these questions within two phases of three days each and develop short musical scenes for very young children. The Sound Lab
examines the same subject with respect to children's participation in the artistic process, whereby adult artists and children research together on the possibilities for cooperation in musical theater.

The results and working processes will be made public for festival participants. The teams will show their scenes, speak about their work process and answer questions from the plenary. On Sunday, there will be an opportunity to take part in a Sound Laboratory session as a guest.

A lecture by Professor Wilfried Gruhn at the start of the symposium forms a common basis for the exchanges and discussions to follow. His contribution is titled »How children hear and experience music – Fundamentals in developmental psychology and implications for musical integration«. A question-and-answer session will be held afterwards.

Productions to be presented

As stated at the outset, only a few productions of musical theater for a very young audience exist so far. Children's opera usually aims at a target audience starting at age 5 and up. This means that we share hardly any viewing experiences with that area. Therefore, we will present five very different examples of musical theater productions for the very youngest audiences, hoping to create a basis for critical analysis.

The original production by Theater o.N. and Deutsche Oper Berlin »Little Piece of Heaven« is a classic commissioned work from composer Nuria Núñez Hierro, whose music has been transformed by director Ania Michaelis into a staging for one tenor, one actress and a bass clarinetist. The production »Zweieinander« by Staatstheater Mainz, created with the support of the Doppelpass Program from the Federal Cultural Foundation of Germany, arose out of improvisations between the musician and the performer without a composer's participation. The spotlight is on the instruments. The production combines the elements of music, instruments and the performers' bodies. It creates a connection between listening and seeing without telling a story, offering an example of musical theater in the most original sense of the word. Making music becomes a theatrical act in itself. The issue of »musician as performer and composer«, so virulent within musical theater, is put forward for discussion among the expert professional guests through the invited presence of this production.

The Belgian installation/performance »Caban« by Theater de Spiegel dissolves the classic stage-audience relationship and shows how the youngest spectators can become involved by participating in the performance, how their curiosity and interest in music can be aroused in the act of listening and generating sounds. Caban is aimed at babies aged 3 months and up; as a production, however, it goes far beyond the »baby concerts« currently popular in large venues.

Two further productions work exclusively with the voice as a form of expression: The solo improvisation »Icilà« by Benoit Sicat of France and »Affinity«, a new work by Italian choreographer and director Alfredo Zinola. Together with the Ensemble of Theater o.N., he examines sounds in their capacity to move people: How do tones reach the audience? A sound commands attention, a lullaby soothes, a rhythm invites dancing.