Children’s classical music – A different world of sound

Music is an experience. Unfamiliar sound, such as classical, allows the listener a chance to explore says David Bui. Bui leads the third and final show, Nov 20, in the Music is a Theme Park series, a kids-focused concert series presented by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Leading the VSO as its RBC assistant conductor, Bui says the show is meant to be an accessible introduction for kids to learn about classical music. Aside from playing pieces familiar to children, Bui says it’s best to take the same approach as any other performance.

“The way I approach a kids concert is not much different to a normal concert to me. I take it just as seriously… just talk to those kids on eye level, and I think that they really like it,” says Bui. “We had two shows and both groups of children were amazingly attentive. They were so curious and interested in the music.”

A world of possibilities

Bui had never expected to become a conductor growing up. In fact, despite growing up playing piano and loving music, he never expected music to be a part of his career path at all.

While his parents thought learning the piano would be a valuable social boon growing up, Bui initially thought his life path would take him towards a more conventional career in engineering and business. But in his first year at post-secondary, he felt as if something was “missing,” and he decided that making a go at music would be worth a try.

“Music was a big part of my life,” he says. “So I decided to go for it. If I hadn’t made it, I would not regret it. But I did make it.”

As for how Bui got into conducting, the switch from piano was partly borne out of curiosity, as well as developing a sense that a career in piano might indeed be a little too “solo.”

And while playing piano within an orchestra could have been an option for some people in Bui’s position, by the time his curiosity was piqued, he was simply set on trying something different.

“Orchestra has much more colour, so the possibilities in what you can do with music, it’s much richer than playing the piano,” he says. “I just went for conducting. This was my only idea… If I hadn’t made it, I would still be doing business.”

David Bui, conductor. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Conducting in Canada

Having only led a few shows in Canada, since completing his studies in Germany earlier this year, Bui has already noticed some of the expectations to conducting in Canada are a little different than in Europe.

“People really like the conductor to talk to the audience. The audience really loves when you address them directly and speak to them,” he says. “While in Europe, it’s pretty much, ‘get on stage, take a bow, make the music, go home’, and everyone is happy. So it’s a new challenge.”

For Bui those new expectations aren’t too hard to deal with, with audiences here being relatively receptive to whatever he has to say about the music.

“I think the Canadian audience in some ways is very generous. They’re very open to what you’re saying, and they really like to laugh,” he says. “So even if you make a really bad joke, they still laugh. It’s quite nice.”

For the kids-focussed Music is a Theme Park series, Bui says, given the show’s mandate, he has even more time to explore and explain the music which allows kids to be introduced to what is, for many of them, a totally different world of sound.

“Classical music is not as close to people’s lives nowadays as let’s say pop music, rock music or rap music. So you need to somehow establish an entrance for those children, and these kinds of programs are the perfect step for the children,” he says.

Overall, while classical music can sometimes feel a little unfamiliar or inaccessible, in addition to featuring a suite of familiar music – including his favourite, the theme from E.T. – Bui says shows like these are able to introduce new audiences by highlighting the most important thing: the music itself.

“It’s not only like learning theory, or what is a theme, what is a symphony, but actually really experiencing it,” says Bui. “Because music can be a lot of theory, but in the end music is about music, listening to it, experiencing it.”

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