Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Music is a really important part of our family culture. We listen to a lot of music of all sorts, and Tim and I go to a lot of concerts, mostly classical. I play the cello (though very infrequently in the past couple years), I love singing, and in the past year I started learning to play the clawhammer banjo. I really want N. to take piano lessons and have found a teacher who I think would be compatible with our learning philosophy, but N. is resistant to the idea, so I am restraining myself from pushing this at present. I want him to take lessons because he loves music and being able to play music is so soul-satisfying; I want to give gift that to him, but I recognize that it has to be something he wants and that enforced music lessons can kill the joy of music rather than foster it. Meanwhile he plays around on the piano almost daily, making his own music by exploring the instrument’s sounds. Sometimes he picks out tunes (like “Be Still My Soul” from Finlandia). I hope his piano-playing leads to a desire for formal instruction at some point, but right now he is perfectly satisfied with what he does on the piano, and I have to admire and respect that.

So, as I was saying, we go to a lot of concerts. I wanted to be able to share this with N., so from an early age, I took him to outdoor concerts, childrens’ choir and youth symphony performances, and I’d occasionally sneak him into the second half of the Sunday afternoon performances of our city’s symphony. We’d sit in the back, and just hear a movement or two and then leave. (We’d do the same with the UNC School of the Arts dance performances.) N. always liked going to concerts with me and he had no trouble sitting still (I’d bring something for him to hold on to like a matchbox truck or stuffed animal); his main difficulty was not liking anything too loud. Once I took him to the second half of an afternoon symphony concert only to discover that the 1812 Overture was on the program, so we had to leave before the cannons boomed!

Tim and I subscribe to the symphony and during the year that N. was 3 he started asking regularly why he couldn’t go to the concerts with us. So when he was 4 we switched our subscription from Tuesday night to Sunday afternoon and bought three season tickets. The concerts are often challenging for N., yet he still wants to go. Last year, he would sometimes fall asleep on my lap during the second half of the concert. The music director of our city’s symphony often does very gimmicky programming and picks pieces that adhere to the theme he’s chosen for the concert rather than simply choosing really excellent music, and it seems to me that N. is least engaged when the music isn’t really moving or striking. For example, the mushy movie-music of the score to The Red Violin didn’t capture his attention, but when they played Beethoven’s 9th (on another day), N. was literally sitting on the edge of his seat for the entire piece.

Last Sunday we went to the first concert of the season. It opened with The Star Spangled Banner (a Southern symphony tradition to start the season this way, I think?). He enjoyed the first half of the program immensely, especially the Suite from Swan Lake. He was bobbing his head in time and looking eagerly around the stage from our balcony vantage point, watching the musicians carefully. It was fun to see him enjoying it so much! At intermission he wanted to know what “that organ sound was” and we determined he was referring to the oboes and bassoons. The second half of the concert was Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto (featured in the film “Shine”), and N. got restless during this; when it was over he said, “Whew, that was hard!” meaning it was hard for him to sit through it! When he is restless or sleepy, I start to doubt the wisdom of bringing him to the symphony. I worry about whether he’s distracting other people, and this distracts me from the music. But overall I think it is worth it. I hope going to the symphony is fostering habits of patience and attentiveness as well as support for and participation in cultural performances, not to mention learning about music. Most importantly, he wants to go and he enjoys it. For the rest of that day, he was humming bits from Swan Lake, and this week we’ve been teaching him the national anthem!


Bona Fide Mama said...

I think it's wonderful that you are such a musical family. I have music in my blood but I'm not a musician. Reading unschooling books inspires me to aspire to finally pick up an instrument one day. I'd like to learn something with my kids. If I could learn to play one instrument I think it would be fiddle... or maybe banjo!

sgaissert said...

I think it's wonderful that you would take Norris to concerts and be willing to leave after a movement or two. Some rigid parents would insist on staying, with a child who was uncomfortable, just because they paid for a full concert.

Fanny Harville said...

Bona Fide Mama -- basic banjo is pretty simple! You should go for it!

Susan -- well, actually I used to leave after a movement of two because we were sneaking in to the second half of the concerts w/o paying. But now I am one of those parents who insists on staying, not because I paid in full but because I really want to hear the music!