Keith Lay




Media Production Education


Joyful Play
Follow the Leader

Score and Parts for "Children On The Playground" are available for purchase from JWPepper for $35.00

Notes from the Composer

"Children On the Playground - Violin Concerto for Strings"

Over three days in February of 2010, Children On the Playground received three superb performances  by Sir Tamas Kocsis and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Christopher Wilkins. These videos, captured by Dr. Lisa Mills of the University of Central Florida, speak for themselves. Tamas brilliantly captured the spirit and heart of this work. Maestro Wilkins treated the music with great care. I am in debt to Tamas for his articulate musicianship and professionalism. 

I. Joyful Play

2. Yearning 

3. Follow the Leader

Introduction and demonstration of "Children On the Playground" to the audience

The last video here is my concert pre-talk I delivered before each performance. The intention of this talk was to give audiences a way to listen to the works more than reveal my real compositional process.

The high quality of these performances could not have been managed without the ample time devoted in rehearsal which was made possible by the support Ed Haddock, a co-owner of Full Sail University. I recorded two of three of these performances in surround (the stereo versions of these mixes presented here) with the invaluable help of engineers Paul Harlyn and Brian Smithers. We employed a Soundfield SPS422B, a pair of extremely wide-spaced AKG 451s and a pair of AT4051s on Tamas in an x/y configuration. The first concert, February 13th, was presented at the Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration Florida - the best acoustical sonic space for a group this size in our area. For Valentines Day, the orchestra performed the first movement, Joyful Play, for an outdoor concert in the new Avalon Park community green as a part of United Arts of Central Florida Arts Fest 2010. The Monday February 15th concert, was presented at Margeson Theater in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center on the Set for "Hamlet". 

History of the Work
Here is the history of "Children on the Playground", sometimes called "On the Playground":


Early in 1999, I received a surprise call from Alex Dean, an old college buddy. Alex is a violinist, and he was looking for something interesting to do while his organization, the United States Air Force String Orchestra, was performing concerts in Melbourne, Florida. Both my wife and I had great times with Alex in our University of Akron days, and we were pleased to invite him our way. During one of these visits, he dazzled our whole family with an impromptu performance. It was the first time the kids had ever heard real violin playing. Alex was really wonderful with our kids, who were then small children, joking and having fun, even allowing them to hold and bow the instrument. There eyes were wide with wonder and delight. I played him the recording of "Earth Caoine", after which he asked me to compose a work for him to play with his orchestra. "Children On the Playground" was my attempt to capture the playful world of young children - so alive in Alex's own musical energy. The work was completed in 2001. Unfortunately, changes in the USAF Orchestra conducting staff delayed the work's performance. In the meantime, I entered the piece in the Sixth Riverside Symphony International Composition Contest .

2002 proved to be a good year for this work. The USAF String orchestra scheduled the world premiere at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia on August 28th. I was invited to stay with Alex's lovely family and attend rehearsals. The USAF is an excellent orchestra, perhaps because of the huge number of hours these fine musicians actually play together. Their ensemble is extremely tight and balanced. Difficult passages in the first and third movements were met with deft clarity and precision. Alex's virtuosic performance was full of the energy of a musical Peter Pan. The concert was well attended and the work was warmly received - and programmed many times on the Shenandoah Cable System.

Meanwhile, "On the Playground" won the Riverside contest along with five other composers! I would receive a thirty- minute reading session by the orchestra in New York that fall with the orchestra's concertmaster, Cenovia Cummins, as soloist. I travelled to New York with my twin brother Kevin for a September 10th performance. The Riverside Symphony is a truly beautiful organization and could only exist in NYC: a parttime orchestra made up of great professional players. These musicians seemed to love and respect each other - I saw laughter and smiles in their intense work for these readings - the best example of what the word 'philharmonic' actually means: love-harmony. This idyllic and passionate atmosphere can be attributed to their conductor, George Rothman, and their composer-in-residence and artistic director, Anthony Korf. The musical styles read in these sessions were widely varied - from John C. Ross' gorgeous impressionistic "After A Line By Theodore Roethke" to the austere sonic adventures of Swiss composer Martin Derungs' "Concertino". Exceedingly demanding, indeed, for any orchestra. The last of the readings was my concerto. Cenovia Cummins, a stunningly beautiful woman and beloved by her orchestra, stood and brought the work to life with such a light-touched vivacity. She sang and glided through the entire reading. I learned at the session that there was a chance that one of our works read that day might be later chosen as a work for a Lincoln Center concert.


Two years later, Anthony Korf called me to give me my heart's desire: They chose my work from a select pool of twenty winning entries culled from a field of five hundred submissions to seven competitions over the past eleven years! "On the Playground" would be performed at Riverside's opening concert for the 2004-5 season at Lincoln Center! Anthony said he regarded my work as excellent and well-crafted. Such a statement from a composer of his stature was the among the finest compliments I have ever received.

Nell Thompson, our Director of Education at Full Sail, supported me with a paid trip to NYC. (Thank you again, Full Sail, for your constant support) Joy, and our son Chris, then 14, joined me, and had a fantastic adventure - it was Chris and Joy's first experience in the Big Apple. Many members of our family and friends made the trip - what fun!


The work was beautifully programmed after the charming " Three Pieces" by the fairly obscure Erwin Shulhoff. Intermission followed, and the evening tied together with Dvorak's popular Serenade in E major. I was invited to provide the following text about the work for the program:



"On the Playground" was inspired by my children, and I sought to capture their joy and wonder with this music.

In the first movement, "Joyful Play", the soloist protrays an eight-year-old alpha kid leading a mini-mob of friends. Each friend is represented by one of the five choirs of the string orchestra. These kids are conjuring up something grand and vivid on a schoolyard or in a park somewhere. The solo violin sparks and inspires the imaginations of the other kids into a hugely dramatic, semi-evil, megalomaniacal glory, so typical of kids. The cadenza brings them back down to reality and the fun continues. I felt the traditional sonata form suited this story nicely.

While creating the second movement, "Yearning", I remembered my own adolescent feelings of melancholy. I'd seek refuge via rapturous escape in the sky. The luminous sonority of high strings in diatonic clusters is like high-altitude clouds and provides a setting for the long, sweeping solo phrases seeking a soaring deliverance.

The last movement, "Follow the Leader", is, as it sounds, a fast frolic. The solo violin cajoles and sometimes runs away from the group, which chases but a single step behind. Each string choir imitates the soloist, but entrances are carefully timed to avoid one stepping on the other. This produces a close, stretto canon, like a flock of finches in flight. Each chase ends in happy chaos, thus producing the clear outline of a rondo form. If you listen, you'll find out if they caught the leader or not."

There's nothing like the feeling of a New York audience giving you a standing ovation: they are the most intelligent musical crowd on the planet! Anthony Tommasini, the chief editor of the New York Times, seems to have enjoyed it, too. Read his review. What a night!

On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings - February 15, 2010
Location: Focus #2, Margeson Theater, The John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Loch Haven Park Complex, Orlando, FL
Artists: Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra: Sir Tamas Kocsis, violin soloist. Christopher Wilkins, conductor
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings - February 14, 2010
Location: United Arts of Central Florida Arts Fest 2010, Avalon Park, Orlando, FL
Artists: Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra: Sir Tamas Kocsis, violin soloist. Christopher Wilkins, conductor
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings - February 13, 2010
Location: Celebration Community Presbyterian Church Celebration, FL
Artists: Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra: Sir Tamas Kocsis, violin soloist. Christopher Wilkins, conductor
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings - November 5, 2004
Location: Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, New York City, NY
Artists: Riverside Symphony Orchestra: Cenovia Cummins, violin soloist. George Rothman, conductor. Anthony Korf, music director.
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings, 2nd movement - March 10, 2005
Location: Pittsburg State University, McCray Recital Hall, Pittsburg, KS
Artists: Southern Kansas Symphony Orchestra: Paul Carlson, violin soloist. George Rothman, conductor.
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings -September 10, 2002
Location: Fordham University, Polk Auditorium, New York City, NY
Artists: Sixth International Composer Reading, Riverside Symphony Orchestra: Cenovia Cummins, violin soloist. George Rothman, conductor.
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings
Location: Multiple broadcast of USAF Strings performance on Shenendoah University Cable
On the Playground: Violin Concerto for Strings -August 28, 2002
Location: Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA
Artists: The United States Air Force Strings - Washington, DC. , MSgt Alex Dean, violin soloist. Cpt Donald E. Schofield, Jr., conductor.


Great article, I learned a lot!
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