There is an ever-growing concern as to how to get people, particularly younger people, into our concert halls and opera houses.
Marketing teams try everything imaginable — from updated productions… to off-beat venues… to discounted student tickets. Some ideas work, some don’t. Frustratingly, what might fly beautifully in one instance completely backfires in another. There simply is no formula that produces the desired result one hundred percent of the time.
While ticket sales typically cover only a fraction of an overall operating budget, arts organizations need bodies in seats in order to justify their existence. As a result, grants often require groups to reach out into the communities in which they reside and offer innovative, no-cost performances that are geared to developing the next generation of classical audience members. I applaud these efforts, which have exposed thousands of children to the arts for the first time through schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, and local libraries.
This type of outreach is a vital step, one I wholeheartedly embrace. It’s a step designed to ignite the imagination… whet the appetite… instill a lifelong love of the arts. But it is just a step. If a child’s interest isn’t capitalized upon by an adult who can then take her to a concert or opera, her interest and enthusiasm will surely wane. As with many things in life, efforts initiated by an outside organization that are not supported at home are likely to wither and fade.
Bach and kids really do mix…
I recently performed an all-Bach concert at the spectacular Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although I’d been warned that our chamber ensemble probably wouldn’t come close to filling the 900-seat venue, wonder of wonders, we actually did. Granted, admission was free. But I personally know the leaders of the two largest performing organizations in my city and they often have trouble giving away tickets. So lack of attendance is not always just about the cost of a ticket.
As I entered the sanctuary and viewed the sizable crowd, I definitely saw what arts organizations refer to as the “graying of the classical music audience.” But I saw something else. Children! And not just children. Quiet children! Sitting attentively. Seemingly engaged. I’ll admit to a moment of horror when I saw two young kids sitting in the front row. The front row! Really, people? If you need to make an unobtrusive getaway, well… you can’t! But they sat respectfully and quietly throughout, proving it can be done. (Kudos to the parents for whatever they did pre-concert to prepare and educate their children.)
This experience got me thinking: Are we, as parents and concerned adults, offering up opportunities that allow children to experience classical music in the appropriate dosage? Are we putting the same emphasis on learning to listen as we do on getting up on stage to perform? Are we doing enough to train the next generation of listeners? (I use “train” deliberately. Much has been written lately about the seeming inability some people have to experience a live performance without the simultaneous need to record, tweet, or share it in real time. This is a great time for us to put our own phones down and set an example.)
A few tips for finding kid-friendly options…
I’ll never forget the time I took my “little sister,” then aged 8, to an opera. Her incredulous reaction stuck with me: “This is opera? But I thought opera was supposed to be boring.” Granted, I didn’t take her to Wagner’s Ring. It was a 30-minute version of La Boheme performed in a local library. Still, she was spellbound. I hope she’ll never fear walking into an opera house or concert hall.
The tips below may help you introduce classical music to a smaller someone:
Just show up…
I am incredibly gratified when people show up for live concerts and operas. With so much available online and on-demand, it takes extra effort to get off the couch and deal with traffic and parking. (Not to mention the effort it takes to get out of your yoga pants.)
People are under no obligation to show up for live performances. But when they do, they are taking a vital step toward keeping live performances alive. And for those who occasionally bring a child along, well, all I can say is, thank you. Your personal commitment may help ensure that we have audiences for classical music in the next generation.
Being an attentive, informed, sympathetic listener is a big job. And someone has to do it.
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