Monday, December 19, 2011

The Nutcracker and an Un-Recital

We had an arts-rich weekend!  N. and I went to our fourth annual Nutcracker performance; the university arts conservatory in our city puts on an excellent production with an all-student cast, orchestra, and crew, and N. and I love it.  Before our first Nutcracker, we read and reread this longish adaptation of Hoffman's tale, which is not the original (despite the author credit) but is fairly close to it in spirit while also being close to the plot of the traditional ballet, so N. could follow what was happening onstage.  His favorite parts of the ballet include the party scene, the growing Christmas tree, the Snow Fairies, the Russian dancers, Mother Ginger, and the Sugarplum Fairy, not to mention all the music -- in other words, just about everything!

We go to one of the matinee performances, along with every other small child in the state, it seems, most of whom squirm, whisper, and sometimes even cry their way through the two hour show (some Nutcrackers are longer, but happily this production is streamlined and fast-paced!).  Their reaction is understandable, if preventable; The Nutcracker is a fairly odd story, and seeing it acted out via ballet can be confusing if you don't know what is going on or aren't used to watching ballet.  I think it is worth going because it can be a lovely visual representation of the magic of Christmas, but it is not worth the expensive tickets if your children aren't prepared to actually enjoy it.  Here are my (fairly obvious!) tips for having a successful Nutcracker outing.  Before you go:
  1. Read aloud a good, detailed version of the story that bears a strong resemblance both to the original and to the stage version many times.
  2. Listen to the music (full score, not the Suite) a lot and talk about which pieces go with which parts of the story.
  3. Prepare your child for watching ballet by addressing questions such as "Why are the men wearing tights?" 
  4. Talk about proper concert-going behavior!  Although no one expects classical-symphony-concert-level behavior from kids at The Nutcracker matinee, everyone pays a lot of money for tickets, so let's be sure they can all see and hear the performance. 
After watching this performance, N. participated in another the next day.  The students of N.'s piano teacher were invited to a party at a house in the country where they played the Christmas tunes they've all been learning on a gorgeous Steinway grand.  It was a lovely, low-key un-recital focused on sharing music, punch and cookies, and after making music the kids all ran wild outside through the rest of the crisp, sunny afternoon.

N. was nervous beforehand, and in the days leading up to the event, the ragtime "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" pieces he was going to play completely fell apart.  But he rose to the occasion, played beautifully, and really enjoyed performing (in fact he said he wished he'd been able to play more pieces!).  It was fun to see all the kids so focused and intent as they played their holiday songs.  


Mom and Kiddo said...

Excellent suggestions. I'm certain my 2 year old lasted through Peter and the Wolf because we had read the book and listened to the recording for weeks beforehand.

What a piano! Thanks for linking up.

Anonymous said...

wish i'd been there to hear him!