Why We Should Take Children to Concerts, Part 2

Problems and an ounce of prevention…………

Here are some of the reasons parents are reluctant to take their children to concerts. However, what may seem to be a problem may not be one at all, can be coped with easily, or can be prevented altogether

Children will fall asleep. Some parents feel that it’s a waste of time to take children to concerts when they will fall asleep. I used to think so too, but the following event changed my mind completely. When my younger daughter was about nine years old, I was having a great deal of difficulty convincing her to vibrate. As any violin teacher can confirm, vibrato is one of the trickier things to teach because if a student doesn’t feel the necessity to vibrate, she won’t. And my daughter didn’t. Then the whole family went to hear Salvatore Accardo, at that time the most famous Italian violinist, play an evening recital. Diana always fell immediately asleep at any concert, probably because I used to play my children’s music cassette tapes at bedtime (CDs were just starting to become available), but I decided to take her along anyway. What happened? She listened to the first two minutes of the concert, made the comment, “Look how he vibrates,” then stretched herself across all of our knees and promptly fell deeply asleep. “That’s that,” I thought to myself. To my surprise, the next day she picked up her violin and started to vibrate! One concert saved us both a lot of work and aggravation. From then on, I made a point of taking Diana to whatever concert I could. She slept through various performances including Shlomo Mintz playing 23 1/2 of the 24 Paganini caprices (which she adored but just couldn’t keep her eyes open for). Nonetheless, seeing and hearing him perform even for just a few minutes made a great impression on her. Another time, I took her to see Vadim Repin (who was only 18 years old) play the Tschaikovsky violin concerto with a fabulous Russian orchestra. She was old enough to stay awake and thoroughly enjoyed herself. We left at the intermission as it was a school night (I would have loved to have heard Mahler #5 which was on the second half of the program) – but it was worth going if only for the Tchaikovsky. Many, many years later, she still talks about that concert.

Children will get bored. If your children do manage to stay awake, there is the risk of their becoming bored. You cannot expect small children to stay focused on the music for the ninety-minute duration of most concerts, although some do. So I advise parents either to leave at the intermission or bring a book or something else that distracts ONLY the those children. The music is still entering their heads even if it doesn’t seem like it and it’s a good for them to learn to amuse themselves without disturbing anyone else.

Your child never sits still. Well then, you probably don’t take him to restaurants either so maybe you should keep him at home until he’s old enough to control himself. Or you can see how he behaves at recitals – some really restless children calm down considerably when they hear music, so make a trial run or two to see what happens. You can always try to position yourself so that you can make a hasty exit if necessary.

However, what’s the absolutely best way to make sure everyone enjoys the concert?

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Just as children love hearing the same bedtime stories over and over again, they also enjoy hearing music they are familiar with. Many years ago, the same Russian virtuoso (as in Part 1) came to town to play a rather sophisticated program: 3 Bach solo sonatas, and 3 sonatas of Ysayë (which, to the uninitiated, sound like modern music that may take some getting used to). I decided to get as many of my students and parents as possible to attend and gave them recordings of the pieces on the program with instructions to listen to them many, many times over. The evening of the concert, four or five of my smaller students (ages five and six), put themselves in the front row of the rather small auditorium (a converted church with only a small podium for the performer), about 5 feet away from the where the artist would play, so they could see well. When the organizer of the concert, realizing that the violinist could see the children as well as they could see him, nervously asked me if this seating arrangement was a good idea, I told him not to worry as these children had been well prepared. They actually remained transfixed and didn’t move a muscle during the entire performance – and neither did the rest of the audience. In fact, the music critic of the local paper later reported something to the the effect that the violinist had such an attentive and participatory audience that the even the artist himself surely could not have expected it. A large part of the audience was composed of my students and their parents (I had a lot of students) and I’m sure most of them still remember that performance. I am also convinced that I could never have left those children in the front row without their knowing the music really well.

So, when you take your children to concerts, make sure they are prepared by listening to a recording of the pieces on the program many, many times, don’t worry if they fall asleep, take a book or some small distraction for them, leave early if all else fails, but NEVER doubt the value of the experience, no matter how little your children seem to be listening or how short their attention span.

Oh yes, do try to take them backstage after the performance to say hello to the artist – musicians usually love seeing young people at concerts. Diana did wake up for Shlomo’s encore and we went backstage to get his autograph on one of his CDs. I’ll bet she still has it, too!

Post Author: Eloise Hellyer

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9 October 2015

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