Considering that the average classical music fan is older than 55, it’s not surprising that very little orchestra music is written for children. Denver’s Inside the Orchestra—the only professional orchestra in the world that does kid-focused programming exclusively—is helping to change that with A Surprise for Rabbit, the first original score in the nonprofit’s 37 seasons. “We really felt like we were the best organization to start commissioning and creating new symphonic stories for today’s audience,” executive director Shelby Mattingly says. Debuting this month during a local tour, the performance encompasses more than melodies to grab your mini-maestro’s attention.

An Open Book

Inside the Orchestra started the process by asking local author Denise Vega and local artists Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand and Leah Stephenson (a teenage illustrator) to create a children’s book on which the score would be based. Vega polled a focus group of fifth graders at a summer camp at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she works, to solicit ideas. The resulting story—in which Rabbit can’t find her friends, only to discover that they were planning a surprise party for her all along—was kept simple so as to not confuse the nonprofit’s young audience.

Behind the Music

Emmy Award–winning composer Charles David Denler needed to balance the book’s light and dark elements. “This is a rabbit walking through a garden, not a grizzly bear,” he says. “[But] there’s a solemn aspect to this story in which Rabbit can’t find her friends.” To accomplish that balance, Denler uses bright piano and flute sounds but places them in a minor key, which suggests melancholy. To help engage modern children with modern attention spans, he also added numerous interactive elements. When Rabbit meets a whistling gnome, for example, Denler has the audience join the orchestra in whistling the melody.

Dance Revolution

Inside the Orchestra puts children at the center of all its performances, and that’s not a figure of speech: Its musicians encircle the audience so young listeners feel immersed in the music. The nonprofit has gone even further in A Surprise for Rabbit by enlisting dancers from Hannah Kahn Dance Company, a storyteller from Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and an actor to carry out the action just feet away from the munchkins.

If You Go

A Surprise for Rabbit, Inside the Orchestra

Schedule: October 22 at the Denver Art Museum; October 23 at Lily Gulch Recreation Center in Littleton; November 2 at Parker Fieldhouse in Parker; November 14 at Boettcher Concert Hall; two performances each day, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.

Tickets: $12.50; infants under 12 months get in free; children seven and under receive a free copy of the book, A Surprise for Rabbit