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