Not many people can claim to have conducted an orchestra in Kindergarten, and not many, if any, have conducted an orchestra while dressed as Indiana Jones, except for 7-year-old Charlie Kirby.
Charlie has perfect pitch and an uncanny ear for music, but it’s not surprising since he comes from a long line of musicians. Charlie’s mother is Long Cane Elementary School music teacher Kathy Kirby, whose father, the late Jim Bradley, played in the Naval School of Music Third Army Band, and directed the Therrell High and later Westminster schools bands in Atlanta, and Osborne High School band in Marietta. He spent a total 42 years directing bands before he retired from Cobb County Schools in 1999.
Jim Bradley met his wife, Connie Bradley, at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Kathy Kirby relayed he serenaded her by playing his piccolo to her while she was in class.
“Dad played in the first Atlanta Pops group at the Fox Theater and grew up in Atlanta playing oboe all over,” Kathy Kirby said.
Her grandfather, Charlie’s namesake, was Charles Bradley, “and his claim to fame was the East Atlanta Elementary Band, but he also had Lovett Schools and the Emory Wind Ensemble in Atlanta,” she said. He also made mouthpieces for clarinets and saxophones.
“Everybody in our family (is musical), and when we say everybody, we mean everybody … we’re all music teachers,” Kathy Kirby said.
Charlie’s sister, Abbie, 5, already has a talent for singing. His older sister, Katie, 14, is a dancer averaging 10 hours a week at dance and is also in chorus and drama classes at Troup High School. She also has performed with the New Horizon Community Theatre in West Point.
So it’s little surprise that Charlie inherited the musical gene. The fourth generation maestro got to conduct the Indiana Jones theme song in front of a crowd - twice. The first time was the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra’s Children’s Concert series in February 2011. Then he again conducted the orchestra in August.
“I was, like, really excited,” he said.
Charlie, who is huge fan of Indiana Jones and the music of composer John Williams, conducted the first show in full Indiana Jones getup. Complete with a hat and whip, the then 6-year-old led the orchestra in a rendition of the “Raider’s March.”
Conducting involves keeping the orchestra in time and cuing them in at the right time.
“I’m trying to get them in the right tempo – fast or slow,” Charlie said.
The young maestro pulled it off, but had some criticism for the performance, saying there were a couple sour notes.
“The problem was that they were having too much fun looking at me conducting,” Charlie said.
At home, Charlie enjoys acting out scenes from the movie and playing the theme on piano. He has been learning piano for about three years under the tutelage of his Meemaw, Connie Bradley.
However, Charlie’s musical talents manifested even earlier.
“He would sing Mozart and Beethoven and all that when he was 2 and 3, but by the time he was 5 he’d learned to conduct with it, so he was conducting Beethoven,” Kathy Kirby said. “… That’s when he started and (the symphony) actually watched that video … and that’s when they let him do the children’s concerts in 2011.”
The kindergartner strolled up on stage in full Indiana Jones costume at the February concert that year, to the delight of the audience, who didn’t realize it was part of the show. However, Charlie is also enthusiastic about his recent trip to see the Boston Pops concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where Williams conducted.
The Kirbys tried to meet Williams, but to no avail. However the trip was still very eventful for Charlie, who jumped up and made his own conducting moves during the concert.
Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Keith Lockhart saw the video of Charlie conducting the 2011 children’s and sent him a package of memorabilia and letter saying he could one day be a conductor. His ultimate goal is to conduct the Boston Symphony, following in the footsteps of his conducting hero John Williams.
Charlie’ father Robert Kirby, a LaGrange police detective and former music teacher, still works on music part time. Charlie says his father “conducts a computer,” describing him working on a score for a movie for an Atlanta-based movie company in front of his computer, unconsciously making hand motions. Robert Kirby also has written music for his church and Colorado State University and North Carolina university, and had one of his pieces played by Central Florida Symphony.
Charlie said his favorite conductors include Lockhart and Williams, classical conductors Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Mozart, and his father. In addition to Indiana Jones, he likes other John Williams scores from the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies, “E.T” and “Jaws.”
Charlie’s mother said he used to keep his keyboard near his TV and would listen to the music from movies he liked and play it back until he learned it by ear. He particularly picks up Williams’ compositions with ease. Charlie’s room also shows off other signs of musical interest.
“The child has a bust of Brahms in his room, and a conducting poster on his wall among all the normal children things,” Kathy Kirby said with a laugh. “Most kids don’t have Brahms in their room.”
The Kirbys think Charlie has perfect pitch, noting how frustrated he gets if something is off-key. His father has played the Indiana Jones theme on piano in the wrong key to get Charlie out of bed.
“It does bother him when everything isn’t sung correctly,” said Connie Bradley.
When he was 3, he told LaGrange Symphony Orchestra conductor Patricio Cobos he played the Harry Potter theme “way too slow.”
Matthew Strother can be reached at email@example.com or 706-884-7311, ext. 229.