Playing time

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Denton Record-Chronicle / Lucinda Breeding
On Saturday, local elementary school students are invited to the Instrument Petting Zoo, a free concert followed by time to look at, handle and play orchestra instruments. Pictured, from left, are University of North Texas music education professor Don Taylor; doctoral student Michelle Barrientes; junior Joey Lewis; and junior Marissa Louthan.

‘Zoo’ lets kids get firsthand lesson in how music is made

Every fall, Don Taylor watches as hundreds of children pick up musical instruments and play them for the first time.

The fifth annual Instrument Petting Zoo is one of the University of North Texas College of Music’s most successful outreach events. Parents bring their elementary school children to the campus, where they meet an orchestra and then test out the instruments.

“It’s very playful, very laid-back,” Taylor said. “Our goal is very oriented toward parents and children just having a good time seeing the instruments and playing them for the first time. It’s funny, because when I ask the children what their favorite instrument was at the petting zoo, a lot of them said, ‘Well, I liked all of them.’”

After a concert by the top-level graduate ensemble, volunteers will guide families through the petting zoo sections, where they’ll have a chance to look at, handle and play instruments. The sections will represent the sections of an orchestra: strings, winds, brass and percussion.

The college started the Instrument Petting Zoo as a partnership with the Greater Denton Arts Council. Last year, UNT became the host, and brought the event from downtown Denton to the College of Music. Pender’s Music Co. returns to the petting zoo as a sponsor.

Members of the North Texas Student Music Educators volunteer for the event, directing families through the building and helping children test out instruments.

“I didn’t touch a musical instrument until I was in seventh grade,” said Joey Lewis, a junior music education student whose principal instrument is the clarinet.

“It was intimidating,” he said. “I had to gain a lot of ground faster than the students who had been playing from a younger age.”

Lewis, a member of the student music educators group, said local elementary school students are fortunate to meet orchestral instruments up close.

“It gives them a sense of accomplishment to be able to make a sound, as long as they stay positive,” he said.

Junior Megan Hogarth, a UNT voice student who will volunteer at the petting zoo, said even if a child can only coax a goose-like honk from a clarinet, he or she could easily become interested in playing the instrument.

“Being a vocalist, I never touched an instrument until I got here,” she said. “I think this kind of thing could spark an interest in something they maybe didn’t think about before.”

Marissa Louthan, a junior and president of the student educators group, said the petting zoo could lead students to taking band or orchestra classes in middle school, or joining the Denton school district’s string program while they’re still in elementary school.

“I think it’s the firsthand experience that can really get them thinking about music and playing an instrument,” she said.

Taylor said children who go on to study in the Denton school district’s music programs are lucky.

“We really have some of the best teachers, I think, in the metroplex,” Taylor said. “Not only do we have some great band directors here, but  we have really great teachers, and that makes it possible for these students to reach their full potential.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is



What: A concert and introduction to orchestral instruments for second- through fifth-graders

When: 10 a.m. to noon Saturday

Where: Recital Hall in the UNT Music Building, at Avenue C and Chestnut Street

Details: Free, but registration is required. Register by Wednesday at All children must be accompanied by an adult.

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