Don’t Patronize Our Future Patrons: Empowering Children in Classical Music: Part 2


Empowering children in classical music experiences requires more than just opening the doors to the concert hall; it demands thoughtful and tailored programming that resonates with children of all ages…and their parents!

Tailoring Experiences for Children of All Ages

Children encompass a wide range of ages, from the very young to adolescents, each with their own unique needs, interests, and capacities for engaging with classical music. Recognizing this variety is paramount in designing programs that resonate with children across different developmental stages.

For younger children, interactive and hands-on experiences are essential in fostering a love for classical music. This could include instrument pre-concert petting zoos in the lobby and short musical storytelling sessions. These experiences introduce children to the world of orchestral music in a fun and accessible way, sparking their curiosity and imagination. A bonus is adults often learn alongside their children!

As children age, orchestras can offer more sophisticated programs that encourage critical thinking and deeper engagement with classical music. Discussions on the historical context of compositions or opportunities to collaborate with musicians and composers provide avenues for older children and teenagers to explore classical music in greater depth.

Tips for Parents

Parents play a crucial role in nurturing their children’s love for classical music and preparing them for concert experiences. Here are some practical tips for parents to consider:

Groundwork Preparation

  1. Sit with your child and listen to a three-minute piece. Discuss their observations afterward over cookies or treats.
  2. Gradually increase listening durations and encourage imagination and creativity in response.
  3. Encourage your child to use their imagination to think up stories or paint mental pictures stimulated by the music.
  4. Be prepared for bonus discussions about the sounds of different instruments.

Pre-Concert Preparation

  1. Familiarize your child with the music that will be performed at the concert.
  2. Listen to recordings together, discuss the music, and indulge in storytelling and treats.
  3. Explain the concert experience, from picking up tickets to intermission, and plan for a special treat afterward.
  4. Consider seating near an exit or in the back of the hall for convenience.

Your Rules

  1. Establish clear rules for behavior during the concert.
  2. Be prepared to remove your child if they become disruptive.
  3. Ensure your child uses the restroom before the concert.
  4. Acknowledge signals from your child indicating they’re done and exit quietly if necessary.
  5. Familiarize yourself with exits and have a plan in place.
  6. Encourage quiet behavior and respectful engagement with the program book.
  7. Reward good behavior with a post-concert treat.

Post-Concert Follow-up

  1. Discuss the concert experience with your child afterward.
  2. Take note of their feedback for future concerts and continue to introduce them to different music.
  3. Maintain traditions and special time together to strengthen your bond and foster their love for classical music.

Tips for Orchestras

Orchestras don’t necessarily need to change their programming, as the masterworks style concerts are already a great feature for adults. However, they do have an opportunity to take existing programs and find a few different ways to offer them to people of different ages and experience with classical music. Here are some strategies for orchestras to consider:

  1. Accessibility: Make concerts accessible to families by offering discounted or free tickets for children. Consider flexible seating arrangements and designated family-friendly sections within the concert hall. (A.K.A. fast escape locations for kids who have had enough!)
  2. Education and Resources: Provide educational materials and resources for parents to prepare their children for concert experiences online and in newsletters.
  3. Engagement Initiatives: Encourage kids to respond to music with poems, pictures, and stories, and invite parents to share their expressions on social media, tagging the orchestra. Or do what Bryan Symphony did with an informal poll asking kid which piece was the favorite on the concert:

By tailoring programming to suit the diverse ages and interests of children, orchestras can create meaningful experiences that inspire a lifelong love for classical music and ensure its continued relevance for generations to come.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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