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Jason Platt's new "Masterpets" comic re-imagines music greats Miles Davis and Leonard Bernstein.

DAVENPORT — Area students, from preschool through high school, can get free tickets to any Quad City Symphony Orchestra Masterworks concert and enjoy a new program guide created for them.

On Saturday night, the Adler Theatre will fill 700 free seats by students in the Rock Island junior high and high school orchestras, Moline instrumental programs and Pleasant Valley Junior High — along with their family — for the QCSO’s program honoring Leonard Bernstein’s centennial.

The new school outreach began in the spring as an update of the QCSO’s Students@Symphony, said Marc Zyla, director of education and community engagement, and principal horn for the orchestra.

“We just felt we have the luxury of having a really large concert hall, larger than many metropolitan concert halls,” he said of the 2,400-seat Adler. “We look at it as an opportunity to reach out.

“An unused seat has zero dollars in value,” he said. “We take this opportunity to bring people in.

“All of this is matched with our school engagement and community engagement,” Zyla said. “A lot of schools have worked with QCSO musicians in their classrooms. This is a chance to see what those musicians do what they do on stage.”

Previously, schools were invited to watch QCSO rehearsals Friday night at the Adler and QCSO youth ensembles members have been able to get one free student ticket and another half off for the Masterworks concerts October to April.

“The numbers were very low. The organization felt we really wanted people to hear the orchestra,” Zyla said, noting 568 students and family members got free seats last spring. “We hope that by inviting people into our home they become part of our lives and we become part of their lives.”

Rock Island-Milan orchestra directors got a Day Foundation grant to provide free bus transportation to concerts from Rock Island High School, and will attend this weekend and the last Masterworks next spring, Zyla said. About 200 Bettendorf High students and families attended the November concert, he said.

Starting with that program, Zyla also launched a new student guide with social media concert do’s and don’ts, a letter from Zyla, notes on the music and soloists, examples of world events that happened in the year of each work’s composition and Q&A with music director/conductor Mark Russell Smith and, this weekend, clarinetist Daniel Won.

Sample questions include what high school they attended, activities, favorite musical piece, what they’re reading and listening to now and life advice for students about to graduate high school.

Traditional QCSO programs are written for adults, and Zyla wanted something for younger audiences.

“When we invite them to Masterworks concerts, we don’t provide them with anything says ‘we’re glad you’re here, we want you to come back,’” he said. “This is a way for us to show how invested we are in promoting attendance at Masterworks concerts, and doing it together with your family.

“This is a good way for us to relate to students,” he said. “We’ve all been in high school, all making choices about the future.”

“The program guides are fantastic,” said Zach Morton, Moline High’s band and orchestra director, who’s bringing 400 kids in grades 5-12 to Saturday’s show, along with 100 parents and siblings.

“I was very impressed how much information it had packed into it, and so accessible to students,” he said. “Anytime you can humanize someone you’ve seen on stage, you learn about them, you learn they’re just like anybody else.”

He said he’s had 30-40 Moline students attend previous concerts, adding the event is “an awesome opportunity for symphony to get people in the seats who may not hear a concert.

“It gives them a chance to see what’s possible in their future, as well as hearing a phenomenal orchestra we have at our doorstep,” he said.

Each student program also includes a “Masterpets” comic strip, themed to that concert, by Davenport cartoonist Jason Platt who worked with Zyla in fall 2017 to create video episodes to illustrate the QCSO “Symphonie fantastique” program.

The new comic illustrates the story of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ letter to Leonard Bernstein for his 70th birthday in 1988. It features QCSO marketing director Caitlin Bishop’s dog Miles and adoptable animals from Quad City Animal Welfare Center.

“I’ve been surprised at how much the participating schools have really loved to come to these experiences,” Zyla said. “I knew what we had on stage would be something people love.”

To view the new program book, visit



Jonathan is a reporter for the

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