Last week, I attended a recital at Carnegie Hall. The lovely soprano Renee Fleming sang her current repertoire of German romantic songs accompanied by Hartmut Holl. The concert was lovely, and the hall was packed despite the impending snow storm.
Now, if I was a blogger of all things music this entry would be all about the recital itself: the gorgeous dresses she wore, the choice of songs and composers, the technique and the encores. But, I blog about other people's children. So, why would I be writing about this exquisite evening at one of the premiere concert houses featuring one of the premiere sopranos of our time?
Because as I looked around the balcony (where we sat), way up, far away from the stage, I saw not one or two, but nine children with their parents. These little people appeared to be anywhere from five years old to tween-aged. They sat still. They listened. They did not talk through the performance. The littlest one (a few rows in front of us) played with his binoculars for a bit, then fell asleep after the intermission. The concert from up there was not visually exciting- just a piano and singer, center stage. There were no 3-D effects, no crazy costumes. There was no story line, and the words were sung primarily in German. Yet, they sat, quietly, some peering through binoculars to get a better look, and listened.
It got me thinking. I remembered being about five myself when my parents would take me to the Philharmonic concerts in my hometown. They would put their winter coats on the seat between them, so I might see better. They would explain to me what we were hearing, and that they expected me to sit still and listen. I would have my own program, so I could follow along, and a pencil in case I needed to doodle. I vividly recall attending a performance of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (No.6), and my mother explaining between movements that it was about nature, and that if I listened I could picture the rabbits hopping and the birds singing and the thunderstorm approaching. And, I could. I still hear that every time I listen to the piece.
Do I think that all children will love classical music, or sopranos, or going to concerts? Definitely not. I have loved music of all kinds since I was a child, and even majored in it in college. My younger brother, on the other hand, who had the same upbringing as I did (violin lessons, singing in a Cathedral choir, etc), was not fond of these "forced" concerts. But, since my parents also exposed him to animals, hiking, fishing and respect for nature, today he is an outdoorsman who teaches his own children about birds and snow and how to track deer.
I was so happy to see those children sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall. Not because I thought they would all end up loving concerts or sopranos or opera, but because their parents were sharing their own passions with their children. Children follow what the adults around them do. And whether it is camping, hunting, reading, dancing, singing, playing music, making art or attending performances, exposure is the only way that children (and adults, for that matter) can decide for themselves what brings them pleasure and meaning.