Sheila Johnson, director of the newly organized children's orchestra at the Capital Children's Museum, briefly introduced the concert program to the audience seated on the floor in front of her.

". . . and there's also going to be an instrument that's higher than the violin," she told them. "It's long and silver. Do you know what it is?"

The question seemed simple enough.

"A piano," someone piped from the front.

Now you know just how young the crowd was Sunday at the CCM children's orchestra premiere performance.

Many of the orchestra members were among the youngest in the museum's Learning Stage Auditorium, located at 220 H Street NE. Four-year-old Jeremiah Helm began the program with "Daddy Has the Hiccups," a variation on the theme of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Antonia Fasanelli, 6, a bit more advanced than Jeremy, played Bach's "Minuet No. 2." Doug Rappaport, 10, demonstrated the vibrato as he played the Schubert Concert No. 4. Rappaport has been playing for only two years, but his confident command of the violin and masterful pose were close to that of a virtuoso.

There were many slips during the one-hour program. Antonia lost her place, stopped, looked quizzically at her music and then looked back at Johnson. Spiritedly, she started over. Later, director Johnson had to change one of the pieces on the program because she'd left her music at home. And Johnson, obviously frustrated, twice stopped and started a cello duet with 9-year-old John Vibert until both instruments were in tune.

None of this mattered, however. The program charmed parents and children alike and its quirks, combined with Johnson's explanations and introductions throughout the program, offered insight into the music and, more importantly, music education.

Johnson teaches violin, cello and piano in her studio on Brandywine Street NW. She recruited most of her private students for this performance "just to get the whole thing started" -- a children's orchestra, that is.

The Capital Children's Museum features unique exhibits that children can actually put their hands on, rather than just look at. There are live performances at CCM every Sunday, but the museum does not yet have any performing arts classes from which to recruit an orchestra. According to Johnson, the museum's entire future is in doubt.

Johnson told Sunday's audience that the museum is in financial trouble. After the concert she positioned two students with donation baskets at the back of the auditorium, "Just to make you feel guilty," she joked. Later, she said that the museum, which operates mainly on contributions, is about $100,000 in the red. A lot more contributions are needed.

Meanwhile, the museum plans to start a children's after-school arts program in January. The afternoon classes would be open to all children but, would especially encourage participation by more children in the neighborhood off H Street NE, where the museum is located. The program would include dance, music, art and drama classes. The museum even has signed up John Neville Andrews of the Folger Theater to conduct drama classes.

For more information about programs at the Capital Children's Museum and about contributions through memberships, you can call the museum at 544-2244.