- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

American music is everything from jazz to classical, Latin to country to hip-hop. Its origins, roots and variety are explained in a new interactive exhibit at Port Discovery, the Children’s Museum in Baltimore.

“Making America’s Music: Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme” was developed by the Boston Children’s Museum and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The traveling exhibition will be in Baltimore through early January.

“We’re hoping with this exhibit to introduce kids to different kinds of music that they might not hear in their home,” says Wendy Blackwell, Port Discovery’s director of education. “Music is common ground. It brings people together.”

“Making America’s Music” not only teaches visitors about the different genres, it lets them have a part in creating and playing music. At one station, they can step onto a conductor’s platform. They can pick up the electronic baton and lead a video of the Boston Symphony playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Another popular stop is the Travelin’ Tour Bus. where country music is celebrated. Children climb aboard and jam on the built-in guitars and keyboards or take their turn behind the wheel of the theoretical country group’s tour bus headed for Nashville.

On a recent weekday morning, a group of third-graders from Hamilton Elementary/ Middle School in Baltimore had fun at the mock jazz club.

After learning a bit about the origins of jazz — America’s own melting pot of music — and the greats of the genre such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, the children took turns at the microphone.

They sang karaoke-style to “Three Blind Mice” or “Jack Be Nimble,” while backed by a jazzy tune. Closed-circuit cameras encouraged the girls to ham it up and see themselves performing “live” on TV.

The same group enjoyed the “Rock Till You Drop,” part of the exhibit, where visitors are encouraged to step onto the dance floor of a school gym and groove along with dancers on the video screen.

“C’mon, let’s make a Soul Train line,” said Briah Myers, a third-grader, as the half-dozen girls kicked around the floor.

The exhibit has more low-key interactive displays that explore the origins of music. Computer touch screens let visitors create melodies and rhythms and play them back. Visitors can view a jazz combo or string quartet on a screen and work a simple soundboard to bring out the bass, for example, or highlight the cello.

At the Streetbeat setup, groups pound on the drums and challenge their friends to follow it. Nearby, the children can make up a beat on a computer station and see it reflected in patterns on the screen.

There are several video screens where famous musicians talk about their earliest musical memories and what inspired them.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma talks of being inspired at age 4, when he saw a performance featuring a double bass. Singer-songwriter James Taylor tells of one of his first musical memories: listening to the soundtrack to “Oklahoma!” on his parents’ record player.

Port Discovery will be holding the Children’s American Music Festival in conjunction with the exhibit. The festival kicked off with a day of musical performances on Oct. 16. It continues with performances several times a week through Jan. 9.

The performances — which will feature members of the Baltimore Symphony, local youth ensembles, and dancers from Morgan State University, among others — are free with museum admission.

At the rest of the museum, it is business as usual, with lots of hands-on activities for all ages. The museum recently adopted the theme “Exploramora: Down on the Farm,” and has added a farm twist throughout many of its activities.

For example, the base of KidWorks, the popular three-story climbing area, now has a mock vegetable garden, chicken coops and an irrigation station.

Other areas for hands-on exploration are the Diner, where children can pretend to cook and serve food, and Harvest Hill, where they can harvest food and “sell” it at a roadside stand.

Older children will appreciate Miss Perception’s Mystery House, where they use their senses to walk through a family’s house and look for clues as to where they could be; and the Adventure Expedition, where they can walk through a 1920s dig uncovering ancient Egypt.

When you go:

What: “Making America’s Music: Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme”

Where: Port Discovery, the Children’s Museum in Baltimore, 35 Market Place, Baltimore

Directions: Take Interstate 95 to Interstate 395 toward Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Make a right on Pratt Street. Pass the National Aquarium. Make a left onto Market Street. Cross Lombard Street. Port Discovery is on the right.

Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays (except on Monday holidays), Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Admission: Adults, $11; seniors, $10; children ages 3-12, $8.50; children younger than 3, free. Memberships available.

Parking: Metered street parking and pay garage parking nearby.

Miscellaneous:

• “Making America’s Music: Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme” is a traveling exhibition that will be in Baltimore through Jan. 9. There are plenty of hands-on activities about making music and different genres of American music.

The museum is hosting a series of concerts in conjunction with the exhibition. Upcoming acts include: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Brass ensemble, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.; Morgan State Dance Center, Nov. 21, 1, 1:30 and 2 p.m.; performer Maria Broom, Nov. 26, 1 and 2 p.m.

• The museum has a gift shop and a McDonald’s.

• The HiFlyer, the tethered balloon ride located next to the museum, is closed until further notice.

Information: 410/864-2660 or www.portdiscovery.org.

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