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?