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Weather fails to dampen CSO's performance for Families First in Cabarrus County

Feb 24, 2020

By Thomas Lott, Independent Tribune 

It was a packed house at All Saints Episcopal Church in Concord on Friday as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performed for families and children around the area. Families First in Cabarrus County wanted children to be able to see a wonderful show, and they put it on seamlessly in the fellowship hall as hardly a seat was empty.

It's kind of hard to believe there was some fear that few people would attend just 24 hours before.

After the Concord area was hit hard by a winter storm Thursday, both Kannapolis and Cabarrus County Schools canceled classes for the day due to the fear of students getting to school safely.

Thursday afternoon, Spencer Swain, the executive director of Families First in Cabarrus County, said the show would go on, but there was some nervousness on his part that attendance could be dampened by the canceling of classes.

But Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees put it perfectly minutes before the performance: "Wherever two or more are gathered, it's a joyful orchestra concert."

There were undoubtedly going to be two or more people coming to the event, but because of the weather, it was unclear just how many there would be.

There were more than enough.

In fact, one would argue it was a capacity crowd.

There was hardly an empty seat in the fellowship hall at All Saints Episcopal Church, and it was not just a full house with an audience, it was an engaged one, as children were dancing along and parents were seen keeping pace with the show.

To say it was a success might even be a bit of an understatement considering the circumstances coming into the event, circumstances completely out of Swain's control.

"We've always had that personal and intimate touch, being in families' homes through the home-visiting program, so they're very used to just getting texts and calls from us, 'Hey, come on out!' so we were discouraged (by the weather) but at the same time we were just going at it last night -- 'We're going to be there, the show must go on, they're coming,'" Spencer said.

The symphony did arrive, as did the audience, and the show went off without a hitch. This is the second time in the last three years they have come out to play for Families First in Cabarrus County, and the symphony truly does enjoy opportunities like this.

"It's really exciting to kind of get away from Uptown and bring the symphony away from the city to reach other communities," said Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Director of Education and Community Engagement Chris Stonnell. "We want to represent the region on a district level, and bringing the music to the community rather than having the community come to us is always nice."

For Families First in Cabarrus County, this is an entertaining thing, but it is also something that plays into its core values. A nonprofit that "nurtures children, empowers parents and strengthens families," the organization is all about doing things as a family.

The show was not just for the children the organization works with, but it was also something families could do together. At the same time, it allowed the young children the organization gets to work with to be exposed to classical music, which Aurora Swain, director of operations and co-founder of Families First in Cabarrus County, really wanted.

"I'm so excited that they're here because we can actually expose kids to classical music, to instruments, because otherwise, you know how hard it would be to go to Charlotte, park, and the expense," she said. "And some of the families have never experienced classical music."

Families First in Cabarrus County works extensively with preschool-age students on several campuses. They also can come out to work with families in their homes and educate there as well. Much of their work is with bilingual students and families, some of whom are still learning to read and write English.

Aurora moved to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago. She then married Spencer, and the two of them have been running the nonprofit for six years.

Events like they were able to set up Friday are just a portion of what they do, but it is also significant to a part of their program as well. Families First in Cabarrus County extensively uses the Orff Schulwerk model in the classroom, which builds "musicianship in every learner through the integration of music, movement, speech and drama."

This method has been shown to help students gain confidence as well as improve problem-solving skills. So seeing what they practice in action with the orchestra helps with reinforcement of what they are learning.

"Twice a week they're getting Orff music instruction, which increases literacy, physical movement ... it's actually beginning to move into the area of therapy for these kids. When they are having trouble, they can come in and (work it out) through the Orff music approach," Spencer said. "So it really has aligned a lot with our preschool programs and the Orff music, and now they're able to come in here and just see it come alive, which is really special."

On Thursday, Spencer and Aurora Swain weren't positive they were going to even have people attending the concert. On Friday, not only did people attend, but it was a seemingly overwhelmingly positive experience and something they can use as a program going forward.

When they started Families First several years ago, they wanted to do all they could to make an impact. Friday was impactful.

"We started six years ago, and it was just a dream in our hearts, and now we're a nonprofit that is able to reach a lot of families through the community so they can have what it takes to be proactive with their kids, to have better parenting skills," Aurora said. "And just for the kids and for their family (to) grow together to be professionals one day, (it's amazing)."

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