Why We Should Take Children To Concerts, Part 1

A few weeks ago, a well-known Russian virtuoso came to town to play a famous violin concerto with a pick-up orchestra. I immediately called all my students and insisted that their parents bring them to the concert. Why, you might ask, is this so important even for children as young as five or six years of age?

1. There is great value in having your children see that someone famous does all the seemingly useless and annoying things that their teachers ask them to do: hold up their violins, elbow underneath, little finger on the stick, use the bow at the frog, watch the conductor and sit up straight (for orchestra players), stand up straight (for soloists), pull the bow straight, etc. It really does save the teacher a lot of hot air – or at least she can say, “If Viktoria, Anne-Sophie, Vadim, Gil, Hilary, Maxim, Shlomo, Sarah, David, Midori, Nigel, (name your virtuoso) are doing what I’m telling you to, then don’t you think you should too?”

2. If your children are fortunate enough to have a teacher who is also a performer, make sure you go to her performances – first to provide moral support, and second so that your children can see that their teacher practices what she preaches which gives more weight to her advice.

3. Attending a performance will reinforce the concert manners they learn in group lessons and recitals. It also teaches respect for other listeners and for the musicians.

4. They learn that musicians are mortals, too. Even the greatest of artists will make mistakes sometimes. Students are often shocked when this happens but it makes them feel more like colleagues, fellow perfection-seekers, rather than worshippers. They also feel a lot better about their own mistakes when playing in public. Seeing how a real pro recovers from a mistake is a most valuable lesson for students – it can change their perspective by teaching them that what’s important is the music, not the mistake: that the performer must keep going and draw as little attention to his mistake as possible to make sure that his public’s attention stays on the music instead of on whatever error he may have just made.

5. The musician is showing us what is possible. Too often students get bogged down in thinking, “This is too difficult (they’re right, it is)” and, “Nobody can do it.” But again, hearing recordings and seeing only the teacher demonstrate a passage doesn’t always make a student realize all the possibilities of the instrument. Seeing the live performance of a master performer, does. And it’s exciting for students to see with their own eyes that someone can actually play the instrument at a very high level and is even enjoying herself (or so she makes it seem – showmanship).

6. Above all, children learn from being part of an a concert audience that they are participating in the creation of art. It is one thing to hear a disembodied sound, lovely as it may be on a CD with its unattainable perfection (few if any recordings are made in one take), and quite another to receive what the performing musician is trying to give you with you giving him something back in return. The exchange between artist and audience is infinitely more interesting than receiving something from a musician in a recording who in most cases is playing for a microphone. Participating in the creation of art is why we go to concerts. Otherwise, with our technology, we would make videos of performances, fix the imperfections and experience concerts passively on a big screen, just like going to the movies. Children attending a live concert learn what it means to be on the receiving end of the music as it is performed and, as part of a present and participating audience, that they provide feedback to the musician, making it all the more important that they pay close attention and listen carefully to what the artist is attempting to transmit.

7. Inspiration. You might think that seeing and hearing a great musical genius could be discouraging to a child, but I have seen it have the opposite effect. While it’s unlikely that many of us will ever achieve such technical mastery and heights of artistry, it doesn’t matter. And that’s the point; we’re all in the same boat – the artist is searching for perfection just as we are, only he’s farther down the road. Children see this as inspiring. It isn’t the achievement of perfection that’s important – it’s the SEARCH for it. Every great musician is searching and creating when he performs and is taking us along with him in the process. That’s what’s so exciting about live concert music. It’s a voyage we all take together.

Next, what’s a problem, what isn’t and what to do to make sure everyone has a good time.

Post Author: Eloise Hellyer

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2 October 2015

7 thoughts on “Why We Should Take Children To Concerts, Part 1

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Thank you! But there are a lot of people who aren’t musicians who will understand us a lot better if we say what is obvious – to us!

      Reply
  1. Gil

    I agree. I also think you should add that kids must also see their peers in performance. Kids who watch other children playing instruments, get a sense of commonality and can gain more confidence/desire to learn their own instruments.

    Reply
    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Absolutely. That’s why we have recitals. The idea is that all students in a teacher’s studio play for and listen to their peers. While not all parents see the value of this (I refer to one of my first posts, “Recitals”), it is usually pretty easy to get them to attend these functions. It is very useful for the younger students to see the more advanced ones. You are right that teachers should encourage their students to see recitals of other instruments as well. The real problem for most of us teachers lies in convincing parents of the importance of students going to proper professional or semi-professional concerts. Parents are busy, frequently have more than just one child, their children have too much homework, other activities, concerts are on school nights and sometimes everyone is just plain tired – there are lots of good, valid reasons for not making the effort. This is why we have to go out of our way to help them understand why it is beneficial, nay essential, to the musical development of their children to see great artists play. Thank you for your comment. I looked up your website and enjoyed some of your essays.

      Reply
  2. Brecklyn Ferrin

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I will be sharing this with my students’ parents! I was lucky to attend many concerts as a child, and I know just how encouraging it is to see a master play. One of my first concert memories was seeing Gil Shaham and being so shocked at his many facial expressions. Clearly, this music is interesting and entertaining stuff!

    Reply
  3. Eloise Hellyer Post author

    Thanks for your very kind comment. Gil is certainly wonderful! I have had the privilege of seeing him perform various times (and I interviewed him once which I will publish someday). I remember the comment of my oldest daughter (also a violinist) who with her husband attended the last concert he gave here: “We are in the presence of greatness.” I think that summed it up pretty well. Needless to say, I had a lot of my students and their parents at that concert, too!

    Reply

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