Students at Morningside Elementary.

Last year, the Osceola Street Elementary School in Sylmar began an orchestra program for its 407 students. Fifty of them signed up and, with rented instruments and hard work by them and the music teacher, they were performing in the fall and at Christmas time. Another performance is planned for this spring.

But on Wednesday, Feb. 17, those students were able to showcase their talents on a much bigger stage.

At the beginning of this year, the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Osceola Street Elementary were invited to participate in the 46th Annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, an annual free event at The Music Center Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

Students attending the event watch a live performance, and then perform a choreography that is based on it.

“For them, this is a new experience. They see that their performances are acknowledged,” said Principal Jose Velasquez.

“The kids in the orchestra learned the dance steps, and they understand the value of the music and the arts in the community,” Velasquez added. “We’re hoping it makes an impression on them.”

In addition to Osceola Elementary, students from Morningside Elementary School in San Fernando, Santa Rosa/Bishop Alemany Catholic School in Mission Hills, Laurel Hall in North Hollywood, and Valley Charter Elementary in North Hills, danced their hearts out.

Blue Ribbon Festival

More than 3,100 fifth grade students, divided into groups, performed a choreographed hip-hop dance at The Music Center Plaza during the Children’s Festival. The three-day festival, which concluded Wednesday, provides many children their first taste of the performing arts.

Prior to their dance, the students attended a 55-minute live performance inside The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion by Black Violin and Rennie Harris RHAW.

Black Violin is a hip-hop duo from Florida composed of two classically-trained string instrumentalists, violinist Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, who plays the viola. They are credited with melding the traditional with popular culture, creating a new sound from blending classical, hip-hop, rock, R&B and bluegrass. Rennie Harris RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works) is a dance company  focusing on youth and urban culture.

The Children’s Festival is sponsored by The Blue Ribbon, a support organization of The Music Center. The festival began in 1970 as part of The Music Center’s commitment to engage young people in the arts, and is one of California’s longest ongoing free arts education programs. More than 830,000 children have participated in the festival since its inception.

Julie Goldsmith, president of The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, said this year’s event involved students from 246 schools across the county.

“We’re trying to bring in kids who may not come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on a regular basis,” Goldsmith said.

Many students have physical and learning disabilities. The teachers  choreograph movements to their abilities “so they can feel like they have participated,” Goldsmith said.

Seeing the children perform “is a goosebumps moment,” Goldsmith noted.

Exposure to Performing

She said the Festival’s mission is a simple one: provide exposure to performing arts for kids who may not be able to see a live professional performance.

“Many schools have cut their entire arts education. This may be the only art exposure for them,” Goldsmith said. “Hopefully, we can spark another generation to become performers.”

The students prepare for the festival with a curriculum specially developed to complement their performance. It is provided to their teachers in advance by The Blue Ribbon in partnership with The Music Center. They learn history and terminology, themes, what to watch for during the performance, and the steps for their dance.

Putting the festival together requires 10-11 months of planning. More than 125 volunteers donate their time for the event.

On Wednesday, the students performed to Black Violin’s “Brandenburg.”

Goldsmith said the program is geared specifically to fifth graders because “they’re mature enough to sit still, and young enough to still be moved by the performance.”

 At the end of the day, Goldsmith said, it’s about “making art performances enjoyable and accessible to all the children” involved and hopefully attract them to the free family activities at The Music Center “so they can see this as a home for them too, not just for other people.”

Thanks to a gift from Blue Ribbon member Maxine Dunitz, each participating student received a copy of “A Journey Through The Music Center.” The book describes The Music Center’s four theaters and the performing arts presented in each venue.  The book included profiles of some performers and behind-the-scenes staff, as well as vocabulary and Fun Facts.