If you're a parent in Perth you'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard of the WASO Cushion Concerts. But hearing and doing are two different things, and despite having been a parent for just under eight years, I had never actually been to a cushion concert. Why? I wasn't entirely sure what they were and if my kids would like them.
ECHO each section is dressed in a different coloured top
Who runs the concerts? Cushion Concerts are run by WASO, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. While the full orchestra normally has 83 musicians, a smaller subgroup called ECHO (the Educational Chamber Orchestra) performs in the Cushion Concerts. ECHO has 15 members, one of each type of instrument.
Where are the concerts performed?
Concerts are run across Perth in various locations making it easy for families to find something local. In 2015 concerts will be run in South Perth, Joondalup, the Perth Concert Hall, Fremantle and Midland. The times vary, but they are all run in the morning on weekdays and weekends.
Who are they suitable for? Cushion concerts are great for kids aged up to six years old. Three to four is probably ideal as they are willing to get up and have a dance and shout answers. Unlike many events designed specifically for children, parents and grandparents will not be bored. Not only is the quality of the music incredible, but the orchestra play tunes most adults will enjoy (such as the theme from Mission Impossible and Jazz Cats).
In 2015 tickets are $16 per person regardless of age, although babies under ones are free.
How long are the concerts? The concerts themselves run for 50 minutes. It is recommended you arrive at least fifteen minutes prior to the start, and allow an extra fifteen minutes afterwards for children to have a chance to play some of the instruments.
What will happen during the concerts? There are two different concert themes: S(w)ing Along with Echo and Echo's Outback Adventure. Each show will start with a song that kids can join in at the chorus. There will be songs to dance to, and songs to sing that all kids should know (like Little Peter Rabbit).
Importantly, all the different sections of the orchestra (ie the woodwind, brass, percussion, string etc) are introduced and the individual instruments played so that kids can get an idea of what they sound and look like. It's done in a fun and interesting way – the kids will never even know they're learning.
At the end of the concert, the musicians will bring out 'play along' instruments and the kids can crowd around their favourite instrument(s) and have their own turn at playing them. I was most impressed to see kids as young as two make a decent sound on the trombone and the kids loved playing the harp (so did a few adults).
There is always colouring-in sheets available in the foyer for kids to take home. They can even enter their best efforts in a competition.
Do they provide cushions? No, it is called a cushion concert because you are meant to bring your own cushions to sit on, but people variously bring pillows, picnic blankets or just sit on the floor. Chairs are provided around the perimeter of the room for those who don't wish to sit on the floor.
There are no allocated seats or space, so the earlier you arrive the closer to the front you will be. However, even if you are sitting on the floor at the back of the room you will still have a good view and will not miss any of the action.
At the end all kids have the opportunity to try the instruments
What if my child starts crying or gets hungry?
It might be the symphony orchestra but it is not fussy or overly formal. You're sitting on the floor, surrounded by other parents – a crying child is not going to be an issue. There is a 'no food or drink' rule, but you can always pop out into the foyer to have a quick snack and then return.
Can I bring my baby in the pram?
Prams are not allowed in the main concert space simply because they block the view for all the little kids behind it. Space is always allocated for prams in the foyer and a WASO staff member is present to mind them.
Can the kids get involved?
Absolutely. From the first song my three year old was up and dancing. There is a lot of audience participation during the concert in terms of shouting out the names of the instruments, and responding to the main presenter (the hilarious and talented Libby Hammer or Lee Stanley) and in some concerts, Echo the Gecko.
When is the next concert?
Sat 2 May
Joondalup Reception Centre
Sat 27 Jun
Wardle Room, Perth Concert Hall
Wed 7 Oct
Fremantle Town Hall
Thurs 8 Oct
Midland Town Hall
Fri 9 Oct & Sat 10 Oct
Wardle Room, Perth Concert Hall
We went to this one too. I would have to agree that the ideal age is 3-4 as it can be a long time for the younger ones to stay engaged. The orchestra sounds awesome live and the children had fun while learning about the music!