Today we highlight a partnership between the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. These partners combine to offer the Music Lab at the library, an opportunity for patrons of all ages to see, hear, and feel real musical instruments, and interact with real professional musicians! Thanks to Erica Keller, Director of Audience Engagement for the CSO, and Kate Lawrence, Programming and Exhibits Manager for PLCHC, for answering our questions. ~Laura

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Can you give us the elevator speech about the CSO & Pops Music Lab program? 

Erica Keller (EK): Music Lab is a program developed by the CSO and Pops with partners from the community including Antonio Violins, Buddy Roger’s Music Inc and various music education organizations. Music Lab is volunteer-driven and provides members of the community with the opportunity to hold orchestral instruments, learn how to make a sound and to ask related questions. The Music Lab is for all ages.

LAIP: How did the program come to the library? If we think about programming as part of a collection of library resources and services, where does a hands-on music program like the Music Lab fit?

Kate Lawrence (KL): In 2011, the Library began a collaboration with the CSO, called CSO at the Library, which was intended to bring classical music performances to families throughout our system.  These are typically concerts with a small ensemble of musicians and consist of performances, discussions about their pieces being performed and demonstrations of various instruments.  Music Lab was added several years later and we typically host it in conjunction with larger Library events, such as Comics Fest and the World’s Largest Storytime.  This year, we hosted the Music Lab at our Sharonville Branch as part of Arts Week, during our Summer Adventure program.

Our Library’s mission is connecting people with the world of ideas and information and hands-on programming is one important way that we do that.  Programs like Music Lab not only tie into our collection, but give people the opportunity to learn about musical instruments and classical music.  Many of our customers, particularly children, lack those opportunities in their schools and elsewhere in the community.  I hope these programs enhance the participants’ appreciation for music and maybe even inspire them to make their own music!

EK: The Library invited the CSO to bring a Music Lab to the Sharonville Branch to kick off a library initiative called Arts Week. Like other library resources, Music Lab is an educational offering that allows for hands-on learning.

LAIP: The Music Lab seems to be youth oriented (I could be wrong!). Do you offer similar programming for adults to explore musical instruments or other aspects of music?

KL:  Definitely!  Music programming is extremely popular with our customers and we offer a wide variety of events, including guitar lessons, a monthly jazz series and a monthly series of experimental music performances.  We have also offered lectures and performances related to Cincinnati’s musical history and off-site events showcasing our extensive collection of vinyl records.

EK: Music Lab is for all ages, however many of our requests to host a Music Lab come from youth-centered organizations or events. We host Music Labs for adults as well, including in the lobby before select CSO and Pops concerts, and also offer a variety of opportunities by switching out the instruments we feature and incorporating a “Science Behind the Sound” component developed by our friends at Antonio Violins. This science-related offering features dissected instruments that usually prompt participants to ask questions such as how sound is produced, what materials are used to build instruments, and how they are assembled.

LAIP: As with any library program, challenges or roadblocks may arise. Do you have any tips or suggestions for library program staff who may be interested in coordinating a similar program?

KL:  Music Labs can be loud, but don’t be afraid of the noise!  Make sure it’s in an area of the library where the noise is not distracting to other customers, but consider hosting this type of program in your public spaces, rather than a meeting room.  While it is noisy, we have found that more customers engage with the program when it’s easily accessible.  Also, be clear in your promotion that this is not a performance, but a hands-on event.

EK: Music Labs make noise! Consider a space where sound is welcomed and encouraged. The first sounds you make on an instrument are not always easy on the ears, so make sure you have a room where participants can feel at ease when trying the instruments. Slight adaptations can be made for softer labs using instruments such as strings and flutes.

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