‘Jack and the Beanstalk’: what to expect, for all ages

CSO musicians Lora Schaefer, David Griffin and Keith Buncke perform in "Jack and the Beanstalk," a Once Upon a Symphony production, with sets, costumes and projections designed by Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

Whether this is the first time that your family is visiting Symphony Center, or if you have attended a Once Upon a Symphony concert before, expect a fun and memorable experience when you settle into your seats March 5 for “Jack and the Beanstalk.” 


What is Once Upon a Symphony?

While many parents of young children tend to avoid orchestral concerts because of behavioral expectations at such events, Once Upon a Symphony is designed to remove these barriers and invite young children into the performance through developmentally appropriate content and techniques.

Imagine a traditional orchestra concert: a dark concert hall full of people, where everyone is expected to sit still and quiet for a long time, listening to music that is beautiful but perhaps unfamiliar. It may seem that there are many unwritten rules for audience behavior and that applauding at the “wrong” time is frowned upon. Even at “family-friendly” programs, trying to take a crying or upset child out of the concert hall can be difficult, but staying in the hall can be disruptive and stressful, too.

Once Upon a Symphony is very different from a traditional orchestra concert. Designed especially for 3- to 5-year-old children, Once Upon a Symphony creates an experience that will welcome your child into a safe, interactive environment. Research shows that children learn by seeing, hearing and doing, and their experience at Once Upon a Symphony will engage them in each of these ways.

What will we see at Once Upon a Symphony?

Once Upon a Symphony combines music and storytelling to introduce young children to the amazing world of classical music. This performance will explore the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in an original production featuring music performed by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with sets, costumes and projections designed by Chicago Children’s Theatre. The concert features musicians playing flute, oboe, bassoon and horn.


What should we do before we visit Symphony Center?

There are several tasks that you can do to prepare this experience and make your visit to Symphony Center more enjoyable and memorable:

  • Introduce your child to the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” We suggest one of the many beautifully illustrated versions, which can be found at your local library or at a retail or online bookseller. The focus of this production reflects the original English folk tale, emphasizing the courage Jack finds in himself to save his town from the menacing giant.
  • Introduce your children to the music they will hear on this program by purchasing recordings or downloading a playlist of the concert repertoire. Listen to this music in the days before your visit to Symphony Center and explore how the music portrays the activities or images suggested, which are central parts of the Once Upon a Symphony performance. The works are:
    • Molly on the Shore by Percy Grainger: This music illustrates how Jack just can’t stop wigglin’ and jigglin’!
    • The Cuckoo and the Nightingale: The song’s melody (found on YouTube) is sung to Jack by his mother, which Jack then sings to himself, to feel brave when confronting the giant. Sing these lyrics with your child, following the song’s melody:
      --When I am scared and all alone,
      --And wish that I could run back home.
      --I stand up tall — OK, I’m small.
      --But I am not afraid at all.
    • Aladdin’s Dream and Dance of the Morning Mist by Carl Nielsen: This music depicts the beanstalk as it twists and turns and grows upward toward the giant’s castle in the sky.
    • Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor by J.S. Bach: This music highlights the appearance of the stalk that sprouted from a magic bean. The music’s steady beat illustrates how brave Jack is, climbing up the beanstalk to the giant’s castle.
    • In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg: This music evokes the menacing presence of the giant.

What will we experience at Symphony Center?

Once Upon a Symphony will be presented in Buntrock Hall and in the Rotunda of Symphony Center.

  • “Jack and the Beanstalk” will be performed in Buntrock Hall at 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. on March 5 (with repeats April 23 and May 7). There are no assigned seats, so sit wherever you are comfortable.
  • The performance will include moments where you will be encouraged to sing, dance and move along with the artists. It is very important that you be a good model and participate alongside your child; your child will respond most energetically if he or she sees you having fun, too. Please note that no child will be forced to participate in any way that would make him or her feel uncomfortable.
  • If your child becomes upset or restless during the performance, you are free to leave Buntrock Hall and re-enter later. Remember, if your child starts to cry, it is their way of saying, “I need a break.”  It’s OK — stay calm.
  • CSO ushers and volunteers will be on hand to help ensure that you and your child have a safe and enjoyable experience.
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