Live Music, Three Ways (And Tips for Including the Kiddos)

For me, live music has always been in a non-negotiable category, along with library trips and large holiday meals. It was just what we did. Starting when I was born, my parents found ways to make it part of our regularly scheduled programming; in fact, there’s a fable in my family that when I was a baby, they took me to the symphony to hear Mahler 5, and I sat straight through it. My parents developed some noteworthy methods for helping their babies to love music, and I’ve been experimenting with adapting those ideas as I cultivate a love for music in Sam’s life and keep that part of my life alive–especially as I’m not performing as much these days. It was easier to take Sam to concerts when he was tiny and would just snooze in our arms for the duration. Now that he’s entering the toddler phase, though, it’s a new challenge. Last week, we tackled the subject of live music…in three ways.

Some friends invited us to an evening chamber music concert held at a local church, and we went out on a limb and agreed to bring Sam. We tracked down the complete program ahead of time (Brahms, Bach, Bruch, and more), I made a Spotify playlist of the pieces, and Sam and I listened to them on repeat for a couple of days leading up to the concert. We looked at pictures of the instruments we were going to see. And we talked about it. A LOT. “Today is Monday. On Wednesday, we’re going to a concert! It’s gonna be AWESOME! Do you want to go to a concert?” When Wednesday came, we packed an emergency stash of Cheerios and quiet books, and headed to the concert. Sam immediately pointed to the cello, organ, and piano on the stage. And as soon as the first piece started, he whipped around, pointed to the stage, and let out a happy shriek (which was one strike in the “sit through quiet live music” category, but a major victory in the “loving and recognizing music” category). And then he proceeded to flirt quite loudly and gleefully with the two teenage girls sitting behind us. 

We spent the rest of the concert in the cry room. 

But the next day, I asked Sam, “Did you go to a concert last night?” LOUD AFFIRMATIVE GRUNT. “Did you hear a cello?” Grin, GRUNT. “Did you see the organ?” GRUNT. 

We officially sat through half a movement of one piece. And spent the rest of the first half of the concert chasing Sam around the cry room while Bach was piped in over a speaker in the ceiling. And left at intermission to go home and go to bed. But Sam still grins when we talk about that concert, or when he hears the opening of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano.

I call that a win. 

Friday night, we hired a babysitter and drove to Oakland to see Sufjan Stevens at the Fox Theater. It was stunning and beautiful and loud and uninterrupted and so very nice to be there. Alone.

And then on Sunday night we hosted a house concert in our living room by two singer-songwriters, and I played some fiddle. It was an intimate, candlelit gathering of friends, cups of coffee in hand, finger-picking guitar and vocals filling up our house, while Sam lounged in the adjacent room.  

It all takes a lot of effort. For what? Well, Sam is growing up surrounded by music and seeing that it’s a priority to us. I hope that he will be a musician himself, and that when the time comes for him to start music lessons, he will already have a context for it and a sense of fascination surrounding it. Learning to play (beyond strumming my various string instruments and pounding his tiny piano, as he currently does in earnest) will be a logical next step for him. Either way, he will know what it means to experience and enjoy live music as an essential part of our experience as humans, the music of our history,  the music of our corporate worship, the music of our present culture. 

Here are a couple of tips for introducing live music to the little people in your lives:

1) Find low-risk venues
So, maybe buying $40 tickets to Symphony Hall isn’t the way to start (although it’s a worthy goal for the future). Check local papers or scour Facebook for info on free concerts. Church venues are great because they usually have cry rooms or accessible foyers. Other options include park/outdoor concerts, bluegrass halls, or house shows. 

2) Go prepared
Everyone loves to hear things they recognize. Do a little sleuthing and find out the exact pieces that will be on the program. Chances are, whoever’s performing would be thrilled to give you the set list in advance and to know that you’re interested enough to ask and listen ahead. Look up the pieces on YouTube or Spotify and listen to them all the way through, as many times as you can manage–in the car, while playing at home, while making dinner. Look up one or two facts about the composers. Guaranteed: you’ll enjoy the program more, too, if you’re already familiar with what you’re going to hear. 

3) Talk it up
Look up pictures online of the instruments that will be featured, and look at them together. “Dude, that’s a pipe organ! It’s taller than our house!” Remind them that the concert is coming up and that it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN. Tell them what to expect. Count down to it. You might even get more excited about it, too.

4) Make it a great experience
If I’m not excited about it, Sam’s not going to be, either. Enthusiasm is key. When it’s over, don’t stop talking about it. Keep the pieces on a playlist that you listen to regularly. “Do you remember the concert we went to last week? Did you hear the cello perform? Did you clap for the performers? Did you hear a piece by Bruch?” Regardless of the outcome or how much you actually get to sit through, the point is to get one little spark out of it…one spark that will send the message to your brain and your heart: “Music is awesome.”

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