- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

It has inspired everyone from William Shakespeare to Plato. It makes the hills come alive and even can save a town from rats. Music has had an integral place in human history and enriches each generation. Yet exposing a child to music's many nuances can give many parents the sweats as they remember a childhood filled with grueling piano lessons.

Hoping to make children's introduction to the intricacies of music more pleasant, a cyber-stop backed by an award-winning symphony nearly a century old offers an interactive environment to give anyone with access to the World Wide Web a chance to love some of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

SFS Kids

Site address: www.sfskids.org


Founded in 1911, the San Francisco Symphony has become one of the most highly acclaimed orchestras in the world. Under the direction of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, it gives more than 200 concerts per year.

Creator quotable:

"SFSKids.org is a natural outgrowth of the San Francisco Symphony's extensive education and community efforts, which began in 1919 with Concerts for Kids and continue today with additional programs, such as the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music for Families and Adventures in Music," Mr. Tilson Thomas says.

"As a musician who is personally dedicated to enhancing children's music appreciation and education, I understand the tremendous potential that SFSKids.org offers children, families and schools that are struggling to incorporate music education into the curriculum."

Word from the Webwise:

With a goal to enhance children's appreciation for music by providing an online destination for families to learn through interactivity, the site succeeds with a combination of cartoon-inspired graphics, color, great sound and animated high jinks.

A curtain parts to a rousing fanfare on the splashy opening page and beckons visitors to enter the site, which appears to be hosted by a quarter note dressed as a conductor. There aren't many sections to explore, but what's there definitely will entertain.

Children should spend most of their time in the Music Lab, which meticulously explores the basic components of tonal composition written structure, tempo, rhythm, harmony, symbols and instrumentation and then allows the budding Beethoven to create and play some simple tunes.

Being a self-taught drummer, I have had very little exposure to written music, but SFSKids.org gave me a quick understanding by presenting concepts with easy-to-understand text and plenty of reinforcement.

Take tempo. Junior first learns that tempo is defined as a constant pulse, such as a clock ticking. He then clicks to the next page to see a metronome in action. Visitors can choose from five speeds learning the Italian words for each speed along the way, i.e., allegro means fast. For each of the tempo choices, a drummer pounds away with his band.

Overall, children will learn musical terms such as treble clef, pianissimo and trill while exploring the passions of music and how instruments work together to produce pleasing results.

The site's two other sections that demand attention are Radio, which offers 50 music clips with text backgrounds ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3" to George Gershwin's "An American in Paris," and Instruments of the Orchestra, which breaks down the symphony by strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion and allows visitors to hear and see (in numerous angles) 17 instruments.

Ease of use:

Visitors will need Internet Explorer version 4.5 or higher, Netscape Navigator 4.5 or higher or AOL version 6.0 or higher to view the site, with Macromedia Flash 5 and Quicktime VR greatly enhancing the experience.

The site presents numerous avenues for interaction, such as clicking instruments or pushing buttons to turn sound on and off. A help page, search function and site map make navigation a breeze.

Don't miss

First, many of the instruments can be viewed in a 360-degree arena, thanks to the Quicktime VR plug-in. This neat feature allows visitors to click and hold an item and make it revolve in all directions to see its variations clearly.

But I recommend a look at the Performalator, found in the Music Lab, for a chance to play a piano online. Visitors can pick from six songs, such as "Row Your Boat" or Mozart's "A Little Night Music," and, using color-coded and labeled notes, click on 11 keys to mimic the sheet music.

Family activity:

Perhaps exposing children to classical music will make them want to see a live performance. Even if classical does not appeal to junior, with so many styles of music on the planet, a family has no reason not to enjoy a concert at a local venue.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Young musicians in the family will love spending many an hour listening to and duplicating the masters while immersing themselves in one of the most rewarding art forms ever created.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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