Don’t Patronize Our Future Patrons: Empowering Children in Classical Music: Part 1

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As I read through comments from my previous post about the idea of free tickets for kids at symphony concerts, I noticed that many assumptions about kids’ ages, expectations, and experiences were often shaped by personal biases rather than personal experiences. For instance, some suggested designing special concerts for children, overlooking the fact that such events already exist.

Other suggestions included tailoring programs or adding entertainment to regular concerts to accommodate children’s attention spans. In my experience, such approaches often result in mere placation, and children can sense it. Automatically assuming what children will or won’t enjoy is a dangerous notion and a disservice to both them and the art form.

A more sincere approach is to integrate children into traditional concert offerings. As I mentioned in my previous post and referenced from Joe Patti’s insightful blog, bringing kids to regular orchestra concerts increases the likelihood of their return as adults. This data underscores the importance of including children in the authentic concert experience rather than creating separate, watered-down versions for them.

Offering free tickets for kids with paying adults wasn’t just a gesture of goodwill; it was a strategic investment in the future of symphonic culture. By removing financial barriers and risk for parents and welcoming children into the concert hall for regular symphonic concerts, orchestras can cultivate a new generation of music enthusiasts while addressing broader societal issues such as diminishing music education and the struggle to engage younger audiences.

In the ever-evolving landscape of classical music, we often overlook a fundamental principle: the importance of empowering our future patrons—the children. In a world where attention spans are shrinking (for all age groups) and cultural engagement is waning, it’s time for orchestras to embrace a new approach that values the innate curiosity, creativity, and imagination of young audiences along with the older ones.

Gone are the days of simply filling seats with comp tickets or offering token children’s concerts. Instead, orchestras must recognize children as active participants in the concert experience, capable of shaping the future of classical music.

We must approach concerts with open minds and a sense of excitement, stopping the assumption that kids won’t enjoy them. Instead, let’s embrace the opportunity to authentically engage children, encouraging them to explore and develop a lifelong appreciation for classical music. The fun side effects often include adults finding new and enjoyable ways to appreciate a concert, too.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will share practical tips for empowering children in classical music experiences, offering guidance for both parents and orchestras!

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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