SIT Music student Devin Ledington has come full circle in his musical journey with the upcoming annual SIT Kids Concerts, 22nd-25th September 2020. The first-year Bachelor of Contemporary Music student attended the concerts in his childhood; this year it’s his turn to perform for Southland primary and preschool children.
In their eighteenth year, The SIT Kids Concerts have been an annual event since 2003 and were the brainchild of Sally Bodkin-Allen. At the time, having recently started working at SIT, and with a background in early childhood education and music, she said she wanted to create a win-win situation by providing performance opportunities for the Bachelor of Contemporary Music students, as well as giving local children the chance to come and enjoy the atmosphere of a live show and see live performances by the students.
“It’s my favourite week of the year! The kids sing and dance and get involved. The students love it
– they get to play to an audience who are so accepting” she said.
Eleven concerts are run over a 4-day period with preschool and primary school children attending from Invercargill and Riverton. Dr Bodkin-Allen estimates there’s been around 25,000 children attend in the last ten years.
There are separate shows for the different audiences, and different song sets, appropriate for the age groups attending, with the song choices varying each year. Dr Bodkin-Allen said there are old favourites which have been sung from the very start, at the preschool concerts for example, ‘Rock- a-bye Your Bear’ is a staple, but they also add in new songs each year and sing popular contemporary music. ‘Shotgun’, ‘Glitter’, ‘Dance Monkey’, ‘We Are One’ and ‘Lost in the Woods’ from Frozen II are all going to be performed this year.
In 2019 they added a Broadway-style ‘relaxed performance’, especially designed to be enjoyable for kids with disabilities, sensory disorders and complex learning disorders. She said there’s not as many flashing lights, it’s a more toned down version that aims to be engaging for this range of students and their particular needs.
“It really has evolved over the years, it’s a pretty slick package now, to be fair”, said Dr Bodkin- Allen.
In the beginning they held the event at Mount Anglem College, then the following year it moved to Windsor North School hall, where it stayed until shifting to SIT Centrestage around ten years ago. She remembers in the early days being stationed on the door, it was her sole purpose to make sure no preschoolers escaped (there’s always a couple of ‘runners’ every year).
And imagine for a moment, getting 300 preschoolers, teachers and parents efficiently into the building and safely seated...she said it was SIT alumni and award-winning singer/songwriter, Anna van Riel who originally made the suggestion (and performed) to provide pre-show entertainment to help the preschoolers get into the show and settled down, by interacting with them and keeping the young audience occupied.
At the concert’s ten-year anniversary, a free evening performance was introduced for family, friends and supporters – Dr Bodkin-Allen said they invited lots of past students to participate and it was a roaring success, so it’s stayed in the annual line-up. To celebrate the event’s 20th birthday in two years time, there are epic plans already underway, with the intention of inviting back some well- known SIT alumni to help celebrate the occasion.
The show has a history of family involvement - performing in family bands, and with good reason, as students often meet their future partners at SIT then end up getting married. There are now generations - husbands, wives, children, siblings and more, who have engaged with the event.
Dr Bodkin-Allen said the students go all in with learning the music and perfecting their performances; it was a student about ten years ago who first suggested “Wouldn’t it be cool if we wore costumes?” From then on they wore costumes.
They have loads of fun preparing and have funny things happen to them during the shows. “You’ve got six-foot guys with rainbow ribbons dancing onstage, it’s just fun”.
“They really blossom in terms of developing stage presence and confidence and they bond as a group. I tell them they’re learning what it’s like to be a Wiggle, as they’re doing up to four shows a day”.
Dr Bodkin-Allen said of Devin’s involvement, “I’ve been waiting for this day to happen – where we would see the kids who once attended, now students and performing onstage... it gives me a good feeling inside”.
Devin’s long-standing connection with the SIT Kids Concerts began when he attended as a preschooler. He can remember going to the shows and thinking “this is pretty cool!”
He’s been developing that interest in music since childhood, starting singing at a young age, then picking up guitar lessons at around 7 or 8 years of age. He said seeing people playing and doing awesome things onstage and being awesome, has had a positive influence on him and encouraged his musical path.
As a first-year Bachelor’s student he’s assigned to perform in the kids concerts as part of his course requirement, but not that it’s a chore! An important component of the Bachelor’s programme is providing performance opportunities to help the musicians develop their craft, stage presence and how to interact with an audience. Students are provided with weekly performance opportunities at SIT Centrestage’s Friday concerts to hone their skills.
The kid’s concerts give them a larger, younger audience and allows them to expand their repertoire and performance skills. “We’re put into bands and given songs to perform, we learn them for the concerts, then we rock up and play to make the kids’ day”.
Devin says he’s most looking forward to being in front of the audience - “getting onstage and performing and seeing their reaction”.
“You gain more confidence as you work on developing your stage presence – practice is important, the more you get onstage the more confidence you have, and when you’re confident you interact more with the audience, and the audience will vibe with you more”.
Devin has lots of reasons to look forward to the shows, but one show in particular, he’s going to enjoy because he’ll be performing with his younger sister who’s attending with her school.
“For my little sister, Brooke, she has been taking up after me and learning to sing and play bass. So I thought it would be an awesome opportunity for her to come up onstage and sing one of the songs with me. Hopefully, one day maybe, she might follow in my footsteps and I’ll see her on that same stage again doing her own kids concert. That would make me a very proud big brother!”