A TV crew surrounding her, conductor Sarah Hicks leaned toward the glass, trying to catch sight of her co-stars: three Alaskan brown bears.
"Are they big?" she joked, and the crew laughed.
Just then, the bears appeared, with Hicks narrating their movements down the hill. "Look how they lumber — gracefully, slowly," she said, a boom mic bobbing above her head. "They are looking for food."
Normally, you can find Hicks onstage at Orchestra Hall, leading dozens of string, brass and woodwind players. But on this January morning, she was at the Minnesota Zoo, working with bears, tigers and gibbons. From a safe distance, of course, and with the help of zookeepers.
The taped segments will be woven into a live Minnesota Orchestra Young People's Concert being broadcast at 3 p.m. Friday on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) and streaming online. The one-hour program uses animals to connect to music and vice versa, exploring how composers communicate ideas.
The orchestra has held young people's concerts for more than a century. (In 1911, tickets for children's concerts cost 10 cents.) But this is the first that's been televised.
"I think it's a silver lining of COVID that organizations, having to pivot, are reconsidering what they're doing and how they're doing it," said Hicks, principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall.
Since September, Hicks has hosted the orchestra's concerts for radio, TV and streaming audiences, providing introductions and insights from the aisles of an empty hall. Now, the orchestra and TPT are starting to translate its youth and family offerings.
"Out team was brainstorming ideas, and we thought it would be fun — especially during COVID times, when people can't really get out and do and see as many things — to experience things you otherwise wouldn't," said Jessi Ryan, the orchestra's director of education and community engagement.
Animals seemed like a fun theme, and the Minnesota Zoo was on board.
Some pieces were directly inspired by animals. Think "Flight of the Bumblebee." But they found less obvious inspirations, too, "that would really relate to not just the animals directly but also how they interact with each other, what their personalities are like," Hicks said.
The three bears, named Haines, Kenai and Sadie, with their distinct personalities, pair well with the final movement of Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin." Kids will hear selections from composers Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Antonio Vivaldi and Grace Williams, too.
Hicks was hoping to tape a short segment for the show with her own animal, her beloved papillon, Pinkerton. "He's very famous," she laughed, pulling up photos of the tiny dog in a New Year's Eve party hat.
Pinkerton, too, has musical connections. "Papillon" is French for butterfly, a nod to the breed's wing-shaped ears, so Hicks named him after the male protagonist in "Madame Butterfly." In the opera, he's not a nice guy, Hicks noted, but her dog is.
"To the tiger lair!" someone shouted, and the team took the path toward the zoo's endangered Amur tigers.
Also known as Siberian tigers, the apex predator's population in the wild has shrunk to about 500, living primarily in eastern Russia's birch forests, near the Amur River. (Their thick fur makes them a good fit for Minnesota, which is home to the Tiger Species Survival Plan.)
The group trained their attention on the hill, where a zookeeper had placed a big bauble filled with a bloodsicle, a tiger's favorite treat. There was no movement, at first. Then silently, swiftly, a tiger named Calisto crossed the hillside, pouncing on the toy.
Hicks turned to the camera, her eyes wide.
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 • @ByJenna
What: A Young People's Concert with the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks.
When: 3-4 p.m. Fri.
On TV: TPT, Ch. 2.