We all know the best way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. The same can be said for our kids whether we are dreaming of seeing them perform on stage or sitting in the audience. Take a moment and imagine your kids sitting through a performance at Carnegie Hall. How about an event at the Metropolitan Opera? An afternoon at the symphony?
It’s possible. Honestly. It just takes practice.
Today my son turned five years old and to celebrate my mother and I took him to an orchestra performance by the Philly Pops at the Kimmel Center, which is a concert venue very similar to the famous Carnegie Hall. It wasn’t just any performance though; it was the music of John Williams. For over a year W has been humming the songs and themes from all of the Star Wars films and we have been listening to the music in the car and in the evening in his room. When I saw the concert was happening over his birthday weekend I knew I had to give it a try.
We were surprised by how well he did. He was full of giddy fidgets for the first part of the show, and I even excused us to the lobby to let him run off some energy during some quieter and more somber songs from movies he was not familiar with. During intermission, a local Star Wars reenactment troupe started to mingle with patrons and W was completely amazed. When we returned to our seats and the music he was the most familiar with began to play, he was enthralled with every minute of the performance. A few times I needed to remind him not to croon along to his favorite parts, but for the most part experiencing live music this way was mesmerizing and magical.
It took us a long time to build up to feeling like he was ready to see an orchestra … with other people.
How to Get Your Kid to Carnegie Hall and Beyond:
1. Identify your child’s interests and start to look for them within cultural venues.
W loves all things space, dinosaur, robotic, and Star Wars. Knowing that means if there is an art show about robots that kids might be interested in, I want to know about it. It also means looking for ways to bend that interest into something else. W’s interest in robots has allowed us to talk about creatures in general which lead to an interest in the shows Face Off and Creature Shop Challenge. Which might lead us to explore different kinds of galleries or shows. Follow their lead!
2. Talk about etiquette beyond the sofa.
Being able to pause the remote to go to the bathroom is great, but live shows don’t have a pause button. There are many different kinds of watching etiquettes for our children to start to learn. Casual, at-home, watching etiquette will vary from family to family. When we are in the movie theater, it’s good if we start to teach our kids to not talk during the film so we don’t disrupt those around us. Since I come from a theater background, I plan on teaching W about being in a live audience from the perspective of someone who was once on stage. Kids can’t stand it if they are interrupted, so they should absolutely grasp why it is respectful to try to be quiet during a show with live performers. Let them know they are there to hear a story, and share with them when they should ask you questions. Questions are the best part!
3. Find the children’s version of the adult version.
The idea of my kid sitting through a three-act play at this age is comical. HA! Nope. We are nowhere near that. At ALL. W has just solidly grasped the “no talking in a movie theater” etiquette, but until he understands the concept of live theater, it wouldn’t be fair to him to put him into that kind of audience yet. I’m hoping I can find some children’s theater performances for him to enjoy this summer or next year. The first shows I ever did as an actor were within children’s theater and I loved being in shows for a young audience. Other kids will help teach your kids how to behave in these audiences as well. If you are going to a show with an audience with a lot of children, take a breather and see if your little one can follow the etiquette cues of the older kids.
4. Go to a starter venue.
The first concert W ever went to was an outdoor family event sponsored by the college I work for. Train was the top-billed band and W knew a few of their songs from the radio. When the songs came on he shrieked and clapped and danced and no one cared because the event was outside. We probably could have benefitted from another starter concert experience before going to the music of John Williams concert today, but I know W will be even more equipped next time. The bottom line is to keep going to events and concerts. You are starting the foundation of a lifetime of arts enjoyment.
5. Have an exit plan.
Get to know the ushers, the venders in the lobby, and where the bathrooms and water fountains are. There may be some shows that don’t go so well. Or there may be a moment where you go into a total flop sweat because it’s completely silent in a sold out symphony performance and your kid just shouted, “This part is SO BORING!” There’s no easy way to recover if you get embarrassed, it just happens. Chances are it’s only you who is mortified. Your kid is most likely oblivious and the people sitting near you are either mildly amused or mildly annoyed, but they will get over it. If you think your child can settle back down, take a breath and soldier on, but if you think it’s time for a break and you can take it, go for it. Today’s performance was just over two hours and W and I were in the lobby for about 40 minutes of that, at least. We made friends with a lovely usher, and I was able to hear the music while W had some of the pressure to be SILENT taken off of his back.
When it comes to embracing culture with your kids, dream big. Seriously. DO IT. That being said, know that your dreams may not match what your kid has in mind at the moment. I know W loves to listen to the opera and when I was a kid I watched performances on tape with my grandfather. If I sat W down right now and put on Rigoletto I know it would probably freak him out. I might even ruin opera for him. That’s the line we are walking here: keeping the arts exciting and accessible, but also guiding our kids so they are set up for success.
Image Credit: Author and Wikimedia
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