Program brings classical music to kids

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Austin resident Phelon Akira said she first became involved in the Chicago Park District when she was 11 and enjoyed her experience at Columbus Park’s day camp program so much she decided to sign up her two children.

“Columbus Park has opened my daughter up to meeting new people,” Phelon said. “They have so much that you can attend, and it helps me out as a mom.”

This summer, children like Akira’s daughter who are participating in programs at Columbus Park are benefiting from a collaboration between the Grant Park Music Festival and the park district.

Day camp participants are taking part in the Classical Campers program, which exposes about 1,600 children ages 6 to 12 from more than 30 different Chicago neighborhoods to architecture, nature and music.

This year marks the program’s fourth season of the partnership to bring music to neighborhood parks, said Jill Hurwitz, marketing and media relations director for the Grant Park Music Festival.

The children toured Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, watched a rehearsal of the Grant Park Orchestra and have been doing other activities involving architecture, nature and music, Hurwitz said.

After watching the rehearsal in the Pritzker Pavilion, the students got to have a question-and-answer session with a musician from the orchestra, Hurwitz said.

“We really wanted to reach more young people,” she said. “It might often be their first exposure to classical music.”

The day camp program arose due to a need for children to have a safe place to go during the summer, said Arthur Richardson, region manager of the Chicago Park District.

“Its sort of a fun way to show them how fun science, engineering and nature can be and how important it is,” Richardson said. “We try to give an opportunity to see what’s outside of their neighborhood and give them an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

From July 1 through Aug. 9, about 125 children enrolled in Columbus Park’s Day Camp have been involved in the various recreational activities, including creating arts and crafts, playing sports and attending the Grant Park Orchestra rehearsal.

Children who participate in the Classical Campers program gain art and cultural experiences that they may not be able to get while in school, Hurwitz said.

“We’d love for them to come back and enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a great way to get your kids outside during the summer, but they’re learning something, too.”

For busy parents like Akira, the summer day camp and other year-round programs gives her children recreational activities – and helps her balance work and family.

“It helps me tremendously, because they pick her up from school and walk her over [to Columbus Park],” Akira said.

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