Chameleon Arts Ensemble stirs a young audience ready to play

By David Perkins
Globe Correspondent / June 6, 2011

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We don’t need neurologist Oliver Sacks to convince us that classical music is one of the deepest human experiences. All you have to do is look at children. When they are exposed to it — serious, complex, soul-stirring music, I mean — their bodies shake, and they become alert and focused, taking it in. Ask them to volunteer to try instruments they have never played before, hands shoot up.

All this was to be seen at the Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s annual children’s concert Saturday afternoon, given this year at the Boston Public Library’s Hyde Park Branch. The approximately hourlong program included short pieces, or movements from pieces, by French, Austrian, Mexican, Chinese, Australian, African, Brazilian, and American composers, including a new work by Boston composer Hans Indigo Spencer. In other words, it was the same brilliant jambalaya as the Ensemble’s adult concerts at the Goethe Institute — with perhaps a little more emphasis than usual on showing off rhythmic patterns (there were two all-percussion pieces, one African and the other Brazilian) and sectional combos (strings in Haydn, woodwinds in Françaix). About 30 were in the audience, mostly parents or grandparents and their children or grandchildren. Few left early. Under glowering portraits of New England worthies, joy and learning went hand in hand.

Artistic director Deborah Boldin, who founded Chameleon 10 years ago, has a special talent for making programs entertaining without “playing down’’ to her audience, and she refuses to dumb-down her children’s concerts. There was no “Puff the Magic Dragon,’’ no singer with a guitar. The ear was always challenged. Spencer, who hosted, introduced each piece briefly, and let the musicians do their work. His “Music Is Ours’’ is a well-made cyclical piece with a pleasing lilt and a steady rhythmic pattern or ostinato. Children were invited to manage the percussion, and did so with confidence.

A few more words about what makes each piece special, a little analysis and demonstration, might help. Visuals projected on a screen might underline the physical allusions of the early pieces. And one wished for a truly great piece at the end, perhaps a Mozart serenade or Beethoven’s Septet, to show what genius can do.

This was Chameleon’s first performance in Hyde Park. Workshops on “Music Is Ours’’ have been ongoing in elementary schools in Roslindale and Mattapan, and will culminate Wednesday in a concert at Forest Hills Cemetery’s Forsyth Chapel. Hats off to Boldin and her fine musicians. If serious music — music that brings soul and body together — is to survive, it has to begin with programs, and in places, like these.

David Perkins can be reached at


At: Hyde Park Library, Saturday