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The wonders of flight and marvels of space are the focus of the Santa Maria Philharmonic Symphony's recently revamped children's concert, performed this week at the First Baptist Church in Santa Maria. 

Janet Hillsong, general manager for the Santa Maria Philharmonic Symphony, said that for more than a decade, the children's concerts have introduced Santa Maria fourth-graders to the symphony in a formal setting. Their new program, "Fly Me To The Moon: From JS Bach to Mr. Spock," created by music director Mark Nowak and his wife, replaces the old performance of Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."

"Fly me to the Moon,"

"[The new performance] is all about flight," Hillsong explained. "We start with the flight of the imagination and go into bees, birds and butterflies before looking at man's attempt at flight and space."

From Tchaikovsky and Beethoven to a cover of "Fly me to the Moon," the Bart Howard jazz standard by bassist Ken Hustad and singer Inga Swearingen, Nowak's 45-minute performance was set to a backdrop of images from the Hubble Space Telescope, videos of birds in flight and black-and-white footage of early attempts at powered flight.

Designed to be engaging and accessible for first-time symphonygoers, the program elicited claps and cheers from its captive audience of children, teachers and parents.

"Comments from teachers coming out of the performance have been phenomenal," Hillsong said, who added that many expressed appreciation over how engaging the performance is. "The conductor asks them questions and ... kids stay engaged through the performance. They're really enjoying themselves this year."

Between 1,500 and 2,000 fourth-grade students will attend the concert over its two-day run, according to Hillsong. She said performances like this fall in line with the philharmonic's mission of bringing the symphony to the community.

"Because [music] is so limited in the schools, the philharmonic feels like it is our responsibility to introduce kids to music and try to keep them engaged," she said.

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Third-grade students have the opportunity to directly engage with the symphony through its Music Van program.

"We bring a Toyota van full of instruments to all the third-graders in Santa Maria [and] everybody gets to play or touch an instrument."

Hillsong hopes to expand the outreach and education program — possibly through a youth symphony or opera programs — to older students in the future.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.