Babar comes to life for elementary students at WCU performance

David Wesley Hooper (left) and Owen Westall, students from April Ferguson’s second-grade class at Cullowhee Valley School, watch the performance.

Nearly 700 students from local elementary schools filled the seats of Western Carolina University’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 15, for a performance aimed at educating and entertaining children.

The performance, funded by WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts, was organized by Brad Martin, associate professor of music, and performed by WCU graduate and undergraduate students and other members of the community.

Jonathan Cobrda, a WCU junior studying musical theater, performs during a recent WCU program aimed at children.

The show, which consisted of a reading of Jean de Brunhoff’s “Story of Babar” by WCU junior musical theater major Jonathan Cobrda, with music by Francis Poulenc and projected illustrations accompanying the reading, “was planned with children in mind,” said Martin.

Martin accompanied Cobrda on the piano alongside a woodwind quintet consisting of Heather McKee (flute, piccolo), Cara Jenkins (oboe), Andrew Gore (French horn), Julie Popelka (bassoon) and Emily Talley (clarinet). The performance also featured “The Ugly Duckling” by Frank Loesser, “Not Bad at All” by Clark Gesner and short arrangement of themes from the Harry Potter films.

Included in the performance was a demonstration and lesson in the woodwind instrument family. Members of the quintet explained and introduced their individual instruments as the children listened intently—occasionally laughing when the musicians demonstrated the full range of musical notes, squeaks and squawks that each instrument could produce.

“The students really enjoyed the performance,” said senior Hannah Woody, studying elementary education at WCU. Woody has been an intern in April Ferguson’s second-grade class at Cullowhee Valley School. Students from Cullowhee Valley School, Smokey Mountain Elementary and other elementary schools from the area attended the performance. “When we got back we made a chart to find out which instrument was the students’ favorite. It ended up being the French horn, with the flute as close second,” Woody said. “They all agreed that ‘Snoopy’ (“Not Bad At All,” from Gesner’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) was by far their favorite song.”

Julie Popelka and Andrew Gore demonstrate Popelka’s bassoon, including its ability to be played backwards.

“[The performance] made the students really interested in musical instruments,” said Ferguson, who received her master’s degree in education from WCU in 2001 and her doctorate in 2008. It also helped them to make connections to lessons from class, especially the lessons about sound, Ferguson said.

With grant support from the Roanoke Commission, Martin, Cobrda and the quintet traveled to Roanoke Island earlier in March and performed the show for an audience of children at the Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo. Upon their return, the group members volunteered their time to perform the show for children from Western
North Carolina.

“I was shocked at the number of students there. I’m glad it was so well received,” said Cobrda. Martin said that he would like to do another performance in the Asheville area, though nothing has been planned. “All in all, it was a great field trip,” said Ferguson, who added that she would take her class to future events like this performance.

For more information about the event, contact Martin at or by telephone at 828-227-3726.