Dare I take my toddler to see the orchestra?

Would she sit still? Would she have to go potty in the middle of a piece? These were some of the concerns I had about taking my daughter, 3 1/2, to a concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra – an institution that commands respect around the world. One might think it a waste of money and a seat to allow one’s toddler to be in such an audience. But this was a free Community Holiday Concert at Martin Luther King high school!

My own teenage years were rendered melodious by my activity with the high school orchestra, and the lasting gift is my enjoyment of orchestral music: being able to hear the melody; distinguishing the sound of, for example, the oboe from the clarinet; having insights into the cultural and historical contexts in which the pieces were written. I’ll never forget the first time I sat in the audience, at the age of 16, to hear Beethoven’s 6th symphony. My daughter should also have this in her life,I believe.

The etiquette at orchestral concerts is much the same as it is at the theater, opera, and ballet; it is not very welcoming to toddlers, who by their neurological makeup have trouble controlling their impulses and urges. In fact, orchestral concerts require more restraint from their audience than those other arts. For instance, a high-reaching aria at the opera or skillfully executed move at the ballet elicits spontaneous cheers and applause from the audience. On the other hand, when one is seated with a view of the conductor’s tuxedo tails, one dare not show one’s approval or enthusiasm while the conductor’s baton is raised. The moments between movements are to be silent.

The concert at Martin Luther King High School is part of the Orchestra’s way of getting heard and seen by people who normally do not make it down to the Kimmel Center. The musicians’ services were donated for this evening! And they were friendly and warm, with the conductor talking to the audience; in some instances, the audience talked right back to show their appreciation. From the baby sitting behind us in her grandmother’s lap to the older women cheering on the soloist, the atmosphere was a very positive one for my daughter’s first exposure to what is more often a stiff, cordial affair.

I do not recommend bringing young children to see the Philadelphia Orchestra during their regular season at the Kimmel Center. However, the Orchestra offers great opportunities to share this treasure with our young children. The first of these comes in the form of Free Neighborhood Concerts, which have taken place in Chestnut Hill, Upper Darby, North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Radnor, South Philadelphia, Camden, Montgomery County, and City Hall in Center City Philadelphia.  

The 2009 Free Neighborhood Concert Series will be announced this spring. But if you would like to share this sooner, there will be another free concert, a Martin Luther King, Jr., Tribute Concert, o
n Monday, January 19, 2009, at 7 pm at the high school that shares his name. Tickets are free and will be available online at the Orchestra’s website or through State Rep. Dwight Evans’ office starting January 5.
A second opportunity is the Orchestra’s Sound All Around concerts for ages 3-5. These take place in smaller rooms at the Kimmel and also at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, and children and their caregivers sit on the floor. The standards of etiquette are ones that toddlers and preschoolers can aspire to. There will be two of these concerts offered in January and three in March as well as others in April and May, and the general admission tickets cost $8.50 – same as a movie!

Here’s to a musical year for you and your children!

5 thoughts on “Dare I take my toddler to see the orchestra?

  • Anonymous

    The Kimmel Center also has some exciting events for children as part of their education initiative. The Kimmel Center’s PNC Grow Up Great series presents FREE child-friendly programming at 11am on the first Saturday of every month in Commonwealth Plaza. The next event in the series, Miss Amy: Kid’s Fitness Rock & Roll, takes place at 11am on Saturday, January 3, 2009 in Commonwealth Plaza. Miss Amy's original songs include movements from actual health & fitness disciplines (dubbed "Fitness Rock & Roll"). Participants at Miss Amy’s concerts get a workout without even knowing it! More info at http://www.kimmelcenter.org/family. Other Free at the Kimmel events are listed monthly at http://www.kimmelcenter.org/free. Definitely worth checking out!

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  • paula dobeck

    Great article.It’s encouraging to know you can bring our young ones to such inspiring events and not worry about their behavior.

    Reply
  • Stef

    We love the sound all around concert series…if you buy the series (pretty reasonable), then you are considered a “subscriber” and can purchase tickets to other orchestra concerts before they are available to the general public…

    The next Sound All Around concert is this coming Saturday, Jan 3rd…Percussion! Check it out! Maybe we’ll see you there.

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