Take the Kids

Recently I went to a new music concert, where I ran into a close friend and her seven-year-old daughter. After we chatted for a while I went to my seat and realized that I rarely see children at any of the concerts I attend. When I do, it is often not the child of a musician, but that of a “civilian”—the non-musician concertgoer who comes for the sake of the music, not for the sake of professional obligation.

So why are we not taking our own young? I am not talking about towing along one’s toddler to the opening gala of the symphony. I am also not talking about sticking our kid in the greenroom as a daycare center while we do a gig. I am talking about when we as listeners attend music events.

I understand that there is music that is composed to be listened to intently, with the type of concentration and patience that’s difficult enough for adults, and much more so for a seven year old. Yet there are a lot of concerts that youth can experience and enjoy. Perhaps we are overly sensitive to being seen critically by our peers if our offspring act out of line. I know colleagues who found themselves in situations where they had to leave events with their noisy little ones in tow, to the annoyance of those seated around them.

Then again, do our offspring want to try to listen? For some musician parents, encouraging their child to come to a concert is akin to making them go to work with them. Even though it is not a professional event for the parent, the kid still feels like an appendage rather than the focus of the outing. However, I know other stories of composer friends happily surprised to see their young kids at a concert of new music attentive and enjoying the sheer experience, often more honestly and directly than the older listeners around them.

So, how can we integrate our young into the world of live music without it being tagged as a task associated with our careers? How can we foster good concert-going habits without infusing into them what I call the “church pew” mentality: one must be quiet and attentive regardless of the circumstances or God will get you. And, how do we do this without compromising the listening experience of other audience members? Where is the middle ground?

3 thoughts on “Take the Kids

  1. JKG

    Middle ground
    The middle ground is obviously common sense. If my child has displayed any interest in music at all regardless of how young, I might be be inclined to take him or her to a performence. By around the age of nine or ten, I would consider them ready for exposure to more grwon-up pursuits, such as listening to multi-movement works; but even then, it would help if there were expressed curiosity on their part concerning the instruments and the way music is produced, as well as how music makes them feel. It goes without saying that its likely a good idea to do all of this before the onus of peer pressure rears its ugly head. Also, be forewarned – kids have a way of being entirely honest about what they think and feel. If a new work in modern genre strikes them as “stupid,” the kid might be right.

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  2. mollys

    Explore your options
    If you’re nervous about taking a child to a concert hall, think about the options in your community. My mom started taking me to our local high school orchestra’s concerts when I was seven years old. I had to sit on her winter coat just to see the stage. The fact that it was a family audience made it not feel weird for a young child to be there (and no one shot my mother dirty looks for bringing me), and I was so inspired by the 16-year-old concertmaster I started playing the violin the following year.

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  3. frindley

    Sometimes I think we impose our own short attention spans and harried lives on children and assume that they, too, lack attention or the ability to focus on something.

    I’m reminded of the some of the principles of Maria Montessori and her educational method which, in part, appears to be based on the idea of allowing children to pursue tasks and focus on activities at their time, rather than stopping them because we – the adults – think it’s time to move on and do something new now.

    Anyone who has watched children (or been a child!) must surely have noticed how a child, if left alone, can be totally absorbed in something (especially when the something is ‘creative’ or stimulating to the imagination) for hours on end.

    My personal assessment is that young children’s attention and ability to truly focus often outstrips that of the grownups!

    [Re an earlier comment - I totally agree about catching them young before (a) peer pressure kicks in and before (b) some well-meaning adult tells them that Shakespeare/Mahler/whatever is meant to be "difficult".]

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