Chicago Sights: Once Upon A Symphony At Chicago Symphony Orchestra

One thing that I have learned about the littles; if it has music and dancing, they’re game. If it has instruments to strum and check out later, they are REALLY game. Once Upon A Symphony at Orchestra Hall, has all of that and more. We popped into their first production of the year, which was Little Red Hen, and we were wide-eyed from start to finish. Combining a story that all parents and children alike are probably familiar with, and four stringed instruments manned by musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with costumes and set designs by the ever popular Chicago Children’s Theater, it was bound to be an hour spent with lots of laughs and twirling in the aisle. 

Once Upon A Symphony - Chicago Symphony Orchestra

There was a great kid friendly set up (the production is geared to children ages 3-5) with cushions of varying sizes throughout Buntrock Hall so that children were comfortable. Think those rectangular cushions in gymnastic classes. There was also plenty of space in the front for interactive dancing and general amazement of the performers. 

Parents weren’t left out of the excitement either. We were able to sing along to each and every song, as they were shown on the big screen. My kids thought I was awesome knowing all of the words to the song for the first time in my life. 

Once Upon A Symphony - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - The Little Red Hen

Speaking of the songs, they were classical songs by the masters, composed of four instruments. A banjo, played by the Little Red Hen. A violin, played by the pig. A viola, played by a cow, and a double bass played by a horse. As they strummed out chords while telling the story of the friends that refused to do the work it took to make a great loaf of bread, the children in the audience were left to come to their own conclusions as to what the Little Red Hen should do with all of that bread that she did, in fact, end up baking. Mush to my surprise, most of the children did NOT agree with sharing the bread – even one of my own, but after the apologetic animal friends presented a peace offering, all was right on the farm again. 

Once Upon A Symphony - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - The Little Red Hen

Once Upon a Symphony is a program of the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO and is presented in collaboration with Chicago Children’s Theatre. The productions, which are created specifically for the youngest audience members, include vibrant music performed by musicians of the CSO, engaging storytelling and delightful sets and costumes created by Chicago Children’s Theatre that blend together in a playful, accessible concert experience in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center. Pre and postconcert activities, organized and delivered by music educators from the DePaul University School of Music, also include a chance to meet the musicians and the featured instruments in the Once Upon a Symphony concert.

The Little Red Hen takes the classic children’s story about an industrious little red hen and her farmyard friends and brings it to life with vivid storytelling, small ensemble performances by CSO musicians and imaginative sets and costumes created by Chicago Children’s Theatre. Chicago-based actor and teaching artist Lily Emerson joins CSO String players Susan Synnestvedt (violin), Catherine Brubaker (viola) and Daniel Armstrong (bass) in the new, original production. Music by Beethoven, Dvořák, Haydn and Saint-Saëns is included in the program.

Jack and the Beanstalk features musicians of the CSO, a storyteller and sets and costumes created by Chicago Children’s Theatre. This unforgettable version of the beloved fairy tale emphasizes Jack’s creativity and persistence, his love for his family and the importance of music. Music by Bach, Beethoven, Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg is included in this program.

At the end of the production, all children – or chicks as they were referred to – were able to come and inspect the musical instruments along with their adult chicks. We had lots of fun exploring them. Sir Twizzler was even given the go ahead to start learning how to play the cello since his fingers are perfect for it. 

Once Upon A Symphony - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - The Little Red Hen

Once Upon A Symphony’s Little Red Hen  will run two additional Saturdays at 10 and 11:45 am on February 21 and March 7. There run of Jack and the Beanstalk will run April 11, 18 and 25. All performances will take place at Orchestra Hall where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is housed. Tickets are $17 each, and can be purchased by phone at 800-223-7114 or 312-294-3000; online at, or at the Symphony Center box office: 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604.

We couldn’t leave Orchestra Hall without a great photo opp on their grand staircase – because what kids don’t love a great staircase? 

Once Upon A Symphony - Chicago Symphony Orchestra


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