The storytime room at the Licking County Public Library is filled with an anticipatory murmur as parents and kids unloaded winter coats and bags of toys and books. 

The small crowd is clearly happy to be out of the January cold, but maybe not as happy to be out of bed. Kids range from antsy and fussy to disengaged and sluggish, asking for toys and iPads. Parents cling to coffee mugs as if they were life support.

But then the trumpet blares, and the whole room transforms.

Every third Saturday of the month, the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra (NGSO) hosts a free “Tunes and Tales” event at the Licking County Public Library, where a children’s story reading is underscored by musicians from the orchestra. 

The book projected on the big screen on Jan. 20 is “Ben’s Trumpet,” the story of a young boy who aspires to be a jazz musician, and plays along to the music of the Zig Zag jazz club with his imaginary trumpet. In front of the screen, trumpeter Larry Griffin and composer and pianist Peter Larson play jazz that starts slow and smooth. 

“In the evening, Ben sits on the fire escape and listens to the music from the Zig Zag jazz club,” read Susan Larson, founder and artistic director of the orchestra. “He joins in, playing his trumpet. Sometimes he plays until very late, and falls asleep in the hot night air.”

Susan narrates the story of young Ben and the Zig-Zag jazz club to a now rapt audience. The story of a young boy discovering jazz plays out in real time, as children around the room discover brand new sounds.

“Now, we’re going to take that slow song, and play you a hot version,” Peter said.

The sound of the music explodes, and the same melody repeats loud and fast. A boy and his father in the second row play their imaginary trumpets together. 

“That was hot jazz, and I want to talk a little bit about what makes up the jazz family,” Peter said. “If I play this … what’s that called, do you know what that’s called?”

Kids get braver about calling out answers as the half hour wears on, and soon they are participating in a real discussion about bass, chords, and the very technical term of  “noodling,” which Peter describes as the musical equivalent of doodling.

“Last time they were drawing,” says NGSO board member Pattye Whisman. “We try to get them up and interacting with the story, with the instruments.”

Griffin’s trumpet takes a solo turn, and he plays a selection of music from around the world, and even the trumpet call of a horse race. Kids scoot closer in their seats to see, and break out in giggles when he makes the trumpet “neigh.”

Peter Larson then instructs everyone under the age of eight to get up on their feet. Someone else shouts: “Under the age of 18!”

Suddenly, everyone is up.

“I’m gonna show you how jazz can make you want to dance,” Peter said.

And dance they do.

Parents pick up their kids to bounce them in the air. A mom twirls her daughter around till she feigns a dizzy stumble. A little girl gets up on her dad’s toes and together they stomp left and right. 

The last song is “The Saints Go Marching In.” Susan leads a march round and round the room, kids joining hands and wiggling to the beat until the very last chord.

A little girl at the front in bright pink snow boots stomps and twirls as the set draws to a close. Whisman says she comes every month. 

The next “Tunes and Tales” event will be February 17th at the Licking County Public Library at 10:30 am. The book “Goodnight Gorilla”will be accompanied by a piece by Denison student composer Josh Eppenauer.

Emily Walker

Emily Walker ('24) is studying Cinema and Journalism at Denison University with a minor in Music. As a freshman, she spent her winter break and spring semester working on a collaborative editorial project with the Newark Advocate, the NAACP of Licking County, and The Reporting Project. From Elmhurst, IL, Emily can be found on campus singing in her acapella group, on her way to a rehearsal, or cozying up with a cup of tea.