'Tis the Season to Introduce Your Children to the Symphony

It’s the time of year for all kinds of traditions.  In our family, we put up the tree around Thanksgiving.  Every day in December we wander around the house in search of our two mischievous elves who keep an eye on our two (equally mischievous) boys.  And sometime in the middle of the month, we all get dressed up and head down to the Orpheum for the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra Christmas program. 

I’ll admit, this “tradition” is only one year old.  But I think it’s a tradition that will stick.  Ever since they were little little, our boys have loved to sing and dance.  We have listened to a lot of music.  A lot.  Disney.  Laurie Berkner.  Raffi.  Some pop songs.  (They like Lukas Graham.)  Some oldies.  (They have a soft spot for Don McLean.)  But starting in the fall of last year, their idea of music began to change.  Music, which they had known only as the sound that comes out of the van speakers, or my iPhone, or the turntable in the basement, wasn’t merely something that came out of a machine.  They began to understand that music was something people made.  And something they could make, too. 

Click for more information on the Lunch and Learn talks.

In October of last year, I took both of our boys to Minerva’s for the Sioux City Symphony’s Lunch and Learn talk.  Music Director Ryan Haskins previews the next night’s concert, takes questions, and with little free time he has after, talks a little bit with us commoners.  That first month, we took a seat in the back and asked the server to bring our check immediately; I wasn’t sure the boys would make it through the whole hour-long talk.  They did.  Maestro Haskins spilled a glass of water, which they thought was hilarious, and which probably cemented his “cool” status in their eyes. 

We went again in November.  By that time, the boys talked a lot about the symphony.  They talked a lot about Ryan.  (And how he spilled his water glass.)  But they thought the symphony was what happened in the banquet room at Minerva’s.  So, although my wife and I try to avoid late nights with the kids, we decided we’d try out the Christmas program and show them what the symphony was really about.  And boy did the boys love it.  They got to see the Orpheum Theatre, which is an experience for anyone at any age.  They got to see the musicians.  They got to see Ryan.  They got to listen.  And they got to sing. 

Asking Ryan a question after the talk.

If you’re thinking a symphony orchestra concert is a big ask of a young kid, you’re right.  Although my two boys will sometimes request classical music—Swan Lake is a favorite—in addition to their favorite musicals, we don’t bring them to every concert.  They are little and it is a big ask.  But once a year we bring them to the Christmas program, which is well-suited for children.  They get to see real people making real music.  They get to feel like big boys.  And because of the nature of the program, they get to stand up every once and a while, and wiggle around, and sing. 

The Christmas program includes a lot of sing-along, which means if you’ve got little, fidgety guys like ours, their fidgeting is a little more tolerable, a little more disguisable.  When it’s time to sing, we let them stand up and sing.  (Or hum.)  It keeps them from getting too rowdy.  And it helps keep them awake, well past their normal bedtime. 

Last year’s program was a memorable night for us.  But what’s been more memorable is how music, how the people that make music, have become a part of our lives.  Our boys now realize that music doesn’t just come from a machine.  They realize they can make it themselves.  And they do.  They’re each taking piano lessons now.  And I know they would not be doing that if we hadn’t gone to those Lunch and Learn talks and if we hadn’t taken them to see what the real symphony is like. 

Playing piano while I cook dinner.

Maybe a late Saturday night at the symphony will mean a cranky kid or two Sunday morning and afternoon.  It probably will.  But it might also mean a kid that can see and hear what music is, a human endeavor.  A personal one.  So think of taking your kids to the symphony this Saturday.  And if you see someone afterwards carrying a funny looking case, tell them thanks and ask them what they play.  In my experience, the musicians are always happy to talk.  You never know what kind of an impression a quick conversation or a spilled glass of water can make. 

Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father. He mows his neighbor’s lawn in exchange for piano lessons for his two boys and himself. Right now, his wife is sick of hearing him try to play “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” The Christmas songs she doesn’t mind so much–for now.