As the house lights dimmed in Zipper Hall, a tide of applause and excited voices rose, even before a single musician set foot on stage. But when LACO education artists-in-residence PROJECT Trio, members of the LA Chamber Orchestra and guest conductor Chris Rountree emerged, the audience, as they say, went wild. This group of LAUSD fourth and fifth-graders, filling all 400 seats and then some, are mostly first-time concert-goers, but they quieted down immediately when the players launched today’s Meet the Music concert with an inventive arrangement of the William Tell Overture. On their first pass at the familiar theme, the ensemble played it straight, but the second time, PROJECT flautist Greg Pattillo improvised playfully. Heads nodded in recognition. In the weeks before getting on the bus to downtown LA, students learned about the idea of re-invention in art by their teachers and visiting LACO docents. Then just like that, the live music sparked a connection – these kids get it.

After the overture’s crashing conclusion, the Trio members introduced themselves, and Pattillo broke into his signature beat-boxing style, blending melodic flourishes with rhythmic percussive effects. When Eric Stephenson pointed to his instrument and called out to students, “This is called a –” they hollaback in unison, “CELLO!!” Double-bassist Peter Seymour finished up the introductions with a refrain that will be repeated in word and deed throughout the morning, which may be the most lasting lesson these kids took away from Meet the Music: Open your ears to all kinds of music and challenge yourself to listen to stuff besides what you hear on TV and the radio.

The centerpiece of the concert was Saint-Saëns’ classicCarnival of the Animals, which featured two gifted young piano students from the Colburn School. Pattillo, Stephenson, Seymour and Rountree took turns reciting Ogden Nash’s groan-inducing rhymes between movements, and students again recognized familiar tunes transformed. Later, during Q&A with the audience, one student wanted to know, “What’s your favorite piece of music?” Stephenson smiled and said, “That’s easy – it is whatever I am currently working on, so this whole week, I have been fortunate to play my favorite piece, which is ‘The Swan’ from Carnival of the Animals.”

The audience, however, had a clear favorite, and it was the last piece on the program, called “Bodega,” a salsa-inspired PROJECT original. “How many here like salsa music?” Seymour asked the crowd. Hands flew up, and the children’s anticipation was palpable. As the entire ensemble eased into the infectious rhythm, small bodies shifted and swayed in their seats, some quietly tapped their knees and armrests. Kids lucky enough to have scored a chair in the mezzanine kept perfect time against the balcony rail while the Orchestra percussionists played conga drums below. Not just meeting the music on a chilly November morning, but being the music.

When you get down to it, that’s what contributions fromLACO supporters do for anyone whose life is touched by the incredible energy and artistry of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: They make it possible for listeners – young and old, long-time subscribers and classical newbies alike – to be part of the music and part of a community that opens ears, minds and hearts.

Can you help LACO bring great music to life? The #LACO205 giving streak hits day 50 today – will you be the 51st donor to keep it going?