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School of Music Hosts Instrument Petting Zoo for Kids

School of Music Hosts Instrument Petting Zoo for Kids

When Hillary Herndon came up with the idea for an instrument petting zoo, she envisioned an event that would bring kids from all over Knoxville together for a fun-filled experience. And that's exactly what transpired.

“This idea was prompted by a friend of mine who asked if we offered any events for young children,” said Herndon, coordinator of strings in UT’s School of Music. “It made me realize that we have not historically offered anything for young children at a time when they are most inquisitive and interested in the world around them. This prompted the instrument petting zoo.”

The event gave kids of all ages an opportunity to engage with various instruments, even if they had no musical experience. It was a packed house inside the band room at the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, with all instrument areas represented: percussion, brass, piano, strings, and woodwind.

The day started with UT music students performing short pieces and explaining how each instrument works. The kids were then encouraged to play the students’ instruments and explore their interests. They banged away in the percussion section, pulled trombone slides, drew violin bows, and keyed every woodwind they could find.

The day was a huge hit with both the parents and children who attended.

“We’re so grateful to the School of Music for hosting this event,” said Allison Starnes-Anglea, who attended with her one-and-a-half-year-old son. “My favorite moment was watching my son make the connection that the player makes the instrument work. I loved watching the students teach him how the sound comes from the combination of the player and the instrument. I’ll never forget the look on his face.”

Meghan Morgan, a UT alumna, was thrilled to come back to campus and bring her two sons to explore this event. 

“We loved every minute of it, and it’s all my kids talked about for days,” said Morgan. “Having an event encouraging them to listen to different instruments and being able to touch a symphony full of instruments was amazing. I’m proud to be an alumnus and thrilled that the School of Music had such a wonderful community outreach event.”

The instrument petting zoo brought joy and happiness to everyone involved.

“You could tell in every interaction that the kids were completely hooked on music,” said Rylee Worstell, a junior vocal performance major. “This was an extremely rewarding experience for me, and it warms my heart knowing that we may have inspired some of the next generation of musicians.”

For Herndon, seeing the positive impact that was made on everyone involved was the biggest reward: "We hope that we've inspired some of the young children in attendance to pursue their own musical studies, found some new audience members, and also provided insights for our own students into performance."


Contact: Jeff Roberts (865-974-8935,

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