Presented by: Mid-size double-winds orchestra (see instrumentation below) Narrator Inflatable costume character Unicorn
Special features: Adorable projection graphics (not required, but helpful) Brand-able coloring pages for program or lobby activities Promotional graphics and text Can by presented as family and/or special needs sensory friendly concert Fun on-stage activity by musicians Gentle audience interactivity
2 flutes 1 oboe 1 English Horn 1 Bb clarinet 1 Bb clarinet/bass clarinet 2 bassoons 3 French Horns (with mutes) 3 C trumpets (with straight mutes) *optional Bb trumpet parts included* 3 trombones (with straight mutes) 3 perc.* violins 1 violins 2 violas cellos contrabass Note: no piano, harp, tuba, or timpani
*Percussion list: snare drum (snares on & off) Tuned percussion: glockenspiel & xylophone Misc. percussion: tambourine wood blocks finger cymbals small crash cymbals small suspended splash cymbal triangle ratchet bell tree duck call
a Sensory-Friendly Concert Celebration, commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioned Grammy®-nominated and multi-platinum award-winning composer, Bob Singleton, to create a brand new sensory-friendly concert. This concert was co-commissioned by Savannah Philharmonic and Oklahoma Modern Music Collective.
“The Unicorn’s Birthday®” is a charming, fantasy-and-fun-filled symphony experience with terrific music, fun sounds, captivating on-stage activity, friendly graphics, and gentle audience interactivity.
This new work is a musically satisfying and welcoming concert for young families and special needs audiences. It is perfect for patrons that are OK with moderate audience activity during the performance and wish to enjoy a memorable orchestra experience without loud, sudden noises or musical tension.
The world premiere performance by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was on June 3, 2023, at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. Several other symphonies are planning performances, including Nashville Symphony and the Savannah Philharmonic.
Build strong community goodwill while growing audiences with this heart-warming symphony experience.
Contact me for more information about performances.
“The Unicorn’s Birthday®” is a gentle, fantasy-and-fun-filled symphony experience with engaging music, fun sounds, captivating on-stage activity, friendly graphics, and gentle audience interactivity. The audience will fall in love with the people, the sound, and the experience of the symphony orchestra.
General concert notes
This concert is designed from the ground up to be a musically-satisfying and welcoming concert for families with small children and special needs audiences. This audience can include parents with a preschool child, individuals with autism who are significantly impacted by various sounds and need noise-cancelling headphones, individuals with Down syndrome, or patients with dementia and their caretakers.
It is perfect for patrons that are OK with moderate audience activity during the performance and wish to enjoy a memorable orchestra experience without sudden, loud noises or musical tension.
The guiding principle is to connect to a difficult-to-reach audience, in mind, soul, and body. This is much different from concerts where the orchestra invites the audience to visit a world with them; whether it’s Berlioz’s drug-addled visions, or Ravel’s lush mythic soundscapes, Mozart’s courtly Vienna, or funky Detroit-beat Motown.
This audience gives the orchestra permission to visit THEIR world. The outside world is not very safe for them. The orchestra has to establish that they are friendly and are not going to “break the furniture” with shocking sounds or perceived threats.
That requires making everything as gentle and friendly as possible, so the audience can drop their guard and experience the music and the moment without fear.
The audience will be full of people who have never seen a live symphony orchestra. They have frightening questions like, “When do I clap?” “Who is that person with a stick, and what are they doing? Are they angry? Are they going to hit someone?” “Who is that mob of black-garbed people on the stage? Are they safe?” and, “What made that sound?”
This is an audience that fears they will get the rituals and ceremonies wrong, get laughed at, get “shushed,” or anger people because they clap, laugh, or make noise at the wrong moment.
To accommodate this audience, I’ve chosen to forego the usual toolbox of musical dynamics. There are no harmonically or rhythmically tense “Jaws Theme” moments, no bombastic percussion or fortissimo blasting brass, no screeching piccolos or chair-rattling timpani.
I still have to create compelling music even without the usual musical dynamics. Composing is about creating tension, and then resolving that tension, but I can’t use the typical musical extremes of tension and resolution. I have to take the audience to expected places, with familiar melodic shapes, phrasing, and forms, to connect with the audience.
That means the dynamics are in the live staging, audience interaction, and fun sonics. Ducks quack, crows caw, cats meow, and the audience gets to use gross motor skills to flap imaginary wings, pose like a dancer, make sounds, and “conduct” the orchestra.
The orchestra is the star of this concert. There is narration, graphics, and a costumed character, but the orchestra performs for 2/3 of the time in the concert. When the orchestra plays, they are the focus of attention. People will leave talking much about the orchestra and little about the narration or costumed character.
The stand/sit instructions and action notes are not optional. They are critical to the performance. They cause the audience’s attention and connection to skyrocket. The orchestra becomes people, individuals with humor. They are both inspirational and aspirational.
The musicians must take the small personal risk to stand and play, have fun, and break the wall of the front row of musicians in the orchestra. The orchestra should be a collection of fun-loving individuals with personalities and a willingness to connect with the audience.
Trust me: There is no audience that will respond more warmly or appreciate you and your talent more.
Have fun. Embrace the activity. Love your audience. Extend joy. The audience will return the love and joy back to you.
Bob Singleton, composer March 2023
Premise: It’s a birthday party for the unicorn, and everyone’s invited!
A narrator invites everyone to a birthday party in an enchanted forest, where various groups of friendly, imaginary animals present dances for the guest of honor, the birthday unicorn. Where possible, graphics are projected during narration, or a coloring book/program is given away, and coloring pages are a pre-concert lobby activity.
The concert is a story and suite of 11 movements presented with alternating brief narratives and short, evocative musical movements, lasting around 45 minutes. Most movements are presented as the accompaniment for various imaginary groups of friendly animals to perform dances they have prepared for the party. There are several opportunities throughout the concert for the audience to participate with simple motions imitating imaginary animals.
The “magical” unicorn remains invisible until the 11th and final movement when they appear onstage as a costumed character and ask the audience to help them “conduct” the orchestra.
It is suggested for sensory-sensitive audiences that hand-waving (“jazz hands”) substitutes for applause throughout the concert. The orchestra should wave back at the audience after each movement.
Larger instruments like bass clarinet and bassoons should bring neck straps for the times when they are standing and playing.
Performance order and notes
pre-concert orchestra and conductor entry, tuning:
The typical symphony concert opening ceremonies should be completely dispensed with. All musicians, including the concertmaster and conductor, should informally enter the stage in a leisurely manner. The conductor can be anywhere they choose to be on stage, blending in with the musicians. Musicians can warm up and freely chat with each other if they choose. Tuning should be done discreetly and informally. When all is ready, the conductor should step onto the podium and deliver the welcome, without expecting the audience to quiet down to silence.
01 “The Birthday Fanfare” (an overture)
This movement welcomes the audience gently and musically to the concert by starting out quietly and building moderately. It allows the audience to get used to the presence and volume of the symphony. The audience is introduced to musicians standing and sitting, breaking the front wall of players, and allowing the audience clearly see what instruments are making the sounds.
The narrator enters the stage after this movement and introduces each movement with a brief description of the imaginary characters and their actions.
02 Party in the Woods
A pleasant mid-tempo musical exposition of how a unicorn’s birthday might sound. A shortened version of this movement is reprised as the final movement.
03 The Ponies Promenade
A dignified march, with percussion making clip-clopping hooves sounds. The audience is invited to mimic prancing horses.
04 The Jumping Joker Monkeys
This is the most energized movement of the entire concert. This sounds like circus music.
05 The Crows Choir
Everyone gets to channel their inner crow and say, “Caw!” The humor comes from the juxtaposition of the dreamy, melodic score with the loud, raucous “caws” coming from the orchestra. It’s important to stand and deliver your “caw” with personality. It doesn’t have to be absolute metric precision delivery on your caws, but feel free to vary the character. Do high, do low, do questioning – have fun.
Again, standing is critical. For some audience members, if they can’t see where the sounds come from, they are frightened. For others, it’s a chance to see what the rest of the orchestra looks like.
Have fun! It’s contagious!
06 Parade of the Penguins
This is a fun, gentle march movement that musically describes a scene with precision-marching penguins. The audience is encouraged to simply mimic marching penguins. Marching penguins – what could be cuter than that? Have some cute fun with this.
07 The Plucky Porcupines
This presents more fun with marches and vocalizations in this movement. The orchestra gets to say “ouch” in singles and groups throughout, indicating that they have been poked by a porcupine. The “ouch” sounds should be loud enough to be easily heard over the orchestra for the comic effect, but should never be overly painful-sounding. Make it sound like you’re being pushed, but not stabbed.
The ouches are very metrical in this movement. Be sure to perform them when and where indicated, adding lots of fun personality.
08 The Kittens Chorus
This is a movement with “mewing” kittens. The “mew” sounds will come from the 2 Bb clarinets. They must remove their mouthpieces, blow in them to make a gentle squeak, and move their index finger in and out to get a high-pitched “mew” like sound. The mews should only be downward, squeaking the mouthpiece while withdrawing the index finger.
The clarinet players remain standing throughout the movement and have action instructions to mimic kittens by preening and waving their paws slowly at each other in a lazy fashion.
The humor comes from the juxtaposition of thick, romantic melodies and harmonies with small, vulnerable, untuned “mews.” Audiences love this movement.
09 The Bears Ballet
This is a bass clarinet feature. The bass clarinet should use a neck strap to stand for this movement. The premise of the action in this movement is that bears can’t really dance. They can only slowly walk into place, and briefly hold a ballet pose or position. The “pose” moments are cued with the bell tree while the orchestra holds a chord.
If the conductor and members of the orchestra are so moved and are not otherwise engaged, they can stand and strike a pose during those moments as an encouragement to the audience to participate.
10 Waltz of the Ducks
There are noisy ducks in the orchestra! The English Horn and both bassoons plus a percussionist with a duck call will quack/honk like ducks and geese in several places, with the double reeds using multiphonics. The orchestra’s job is to play the waltz as a serious concert waltz so that the crazy honking stands in stark contrast.
11 The Birthday Finale
This is the big pay-off. It is a shortened reprise of the 2nd movement, “Party in the Woods.” The costumed character unicorn will come on stage and will “conduct” the orchestra along with the audience. The conductor will remain on the podium to conduct and hold everything together.
This should be bright and lively but should maintain the narrowed dynamics of the rest of the concert.
Bows & exit
Bows should be as abbreviated as possible. Move quickly to meet & greet in the lobby with all available personnel, including musicians, conductor, narrator, and unicorn costumed character.
Several symphonies have committed to stand-alone performances of “When Instruments Roamed the Earth!®” composed by Bob Singleton in the 21-22 symphony season.
Enjoy performances by a wide range orchestras including prestigious internationally renowned orchestras in world-class symphony halls, orchestras that “take it on the road” throughout a region for family & school audiences, energized community orchestras, performances in major urban and suburban markets, well-known summer institutes, training programs, and music festivals.
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performs the concert in March 2022 from its home symphony hall, Bass Performance Hall, conducted by Alex Amsel. The performance is a return for the symphony that performed the world premiere in 2019. The orchestra is known worldwide as the performing orchestra for the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. Joining the orchestra will be theater and TV professionals, Patty Wirtz as “Professor Pat Pending,” and Steven Raikes as the hyper-energized T-Rex Conductor.
The Nashville Symphony will present the southern US premiere performance in Schermerhorn Symphony Center, March 2022. The performance will be conducted by Nathan Aspinall. Nashville Symphony is presenting the concert in their “comeback season” as part of their Ann & Monroe Carell Family Trust “Family Series” performances.
Symphony of the Mountains, a professional symphony in Northeast Tennessee, will be taking the show on the road for performances in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in May 2022. Music Director Cornelia Laemmli Orth will be leading the orchestra in several performances for families and students.
Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival Orchestra will be performing and video recording the concert in July 2021. The resident conductor is Ken Lam. They will use the recording year-round in their outreaches and educational programs.
The Timpanogos Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Pew, will present the concert as their Halloween family performance of 2021. Their Halloween performances always introduce new fans to the orchestra. The concert is a perfect way to capture the hearts of families and bring them into future performances.
The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Confessore, presents the concert on the University of Alabama, Birmingham campus in October. The concert will be presented to invited school groups. Video recording is planned for year-round school outreach opportunities.
LouisianaPhilharmonicOrchestra will be performing the concert for family audiences on Sunday afternoon, March 13. The performance will be presented at Roussell Performance Hall, Loyola University, New Orleans.
Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra will be presenting this free educational concert as part of their Young People’s Discovery series. Register online for either of 2 performances on March 17, 2022.
“When Instruments Roamed the Earth!®” was premiered by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in Bass Performance Hall under conductor Alejandro Gómez Guillén in February 2019.
What do you do after you’ve had a triumphant world premiere of a new type of family concert, by a world-class symphony orchestra, in a revered symphony hall?
You make it better.
During all the read-throughs, rehearsals and the performance of, “When Instruments Roamed the Earth!®” copious notes were taken, musicians were queried, conductors were questioned, and audience members, production staff and characters were surveyed; all to find out, “how can we make this better?”
We found out. Then, we went to work on version 2.0.
“When Instruments Roamed the Earth!®” version 2.0 includes:
a big laugh that was added earlier in the narration to get the fun started sooner and larger
revamped orchestration, reworked in key areas
all scores and parts were totally re-engraved using a unified “house style,” with fresh paginations, layouts, instructions, and markings for quicker rehearsals and better performances
the title change was rolled out to all scripts, scores, parts, graphics, and promotional elements (“When Instruments Roamed the Earth!®” was originally titled “Jurassic Parts.” Questions about that? Funny story. Ask us.)
And, because of an anonymous benefactor for a limited time, there’s no reason any symphony in the US can’t perform this new, improved, audience-pleasing, donor-friendly symphonic event.