Skip to content

Mary Boone, assistant principal flute with the North Carolina Symphony, had a very important request for the group of preschoolers sitting in front of her at the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. She instructed everyone to put their hand in the air and said:

“I want you to be the conductor.”

With arms moving up and down, Boone explained how the conductor is a very important person to the orchestra because they are in charge of keeping the 70 plus players going the same speed — also called the tempo.

Mary Boone of the North Carolina Symphony. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
Mary Boone of the North Carolina Symphony. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Boone visited Rocky Mount as part of the North Carolina Symphony’s Music Discovery Program, which gets early learners up close and personal with instruments and sounds. In addition to playing music, the NC Symphony musician brings one of their favorite books to read to the group. In essence, it is a simple music lesson: Sound can be an integral part of storytelling.

Story time with the NC Symphony. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Boone used the story of Peter and the Wolf as a way to showcase how sound can describe a character. She explained, “a melody can be happy, sad, scary, or even a little mysterious.” After playing a tune on her flute, she had the early learners tell her if she just played the bird, duck, wolf or grandfather in the story. Hearing notes that were high-pitched, quick, light, and a bit flighty, the children guessed she was playing the bird.

After sharing about melody, rhythm, and finally percussion, Boone switched her instrument out for a book, and everyone gathered around for story time. After listening and reading, the most exciting part for the preschoolers began — the playing.

Children were able to hold, touch, shake, drum, and more. There were maracas, a trumpet, a piccolo, a violin, a tambourine — and the list goes on.

Girl playing the violin with the NC Symphony. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
Girl playing the violin with the NC Symphony. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Boone has been with the symphony for over 20 years and has participated in the Music Discovery Program roughly 15 times. When asked what her favorite part of the day is, she said: “Seeing the little kids’ face light up when they hear music and getting to know a little bit about it, and then making the connection between the music and storytelling.”

“[When they realize] you can tell stories with music — and that’s, I think, a first for a lot of these kids,” she added.

Two boys playing instruments in Rocky Mount with Music Discovery program. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
Two boys playing instruments in Rocky Mount with Music Discovery program. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

The North Carolina Symphony serves more than 70,000 students from preschool to high school each year with their music education programs. The Duke Energy Foundation supports these educational efforts, bringing music into classrooms.

“A life-long love for music starts with early exposure. The NC Symphony’s programs engage young children with hands-on experiences that connect them to the joy and storytelling that music can offer.” – Stephen De May, NC President, Duke Energy

Students are introduced early on through programs such as Music Discovery and continue to be engaged in the classroom. Ensembles in Schools brings a wind quintet and string quartet into elementary school classrooms so students can have a one-on-one musical experience.

The symphony provides teacher workshops in August, offers middle and high school students the opportunity to play in Meymandi Concert Hall, allows students to witness open rehearsals of the symphony themselves, and more.

When we asked Boone the one thing she would want people to know about the symphony, she reflected on its educational impact.

“First of all, it’s a world class organization — but that it has a strong education mission, and it always has,” she said.

North Carolina Symphony at the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
North Carolina Symphony at the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Duke Energy Foundation supports the work of EducationNC. 

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is a multimedia storyteller for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, and STEM education.