The kids are alright
We interviewed some of our youngest audience members at our Family Day Pocket Concert. Here's what they had to say:
As I was writing this article, I was reminded of the time I spent busking in Old Montréal. I used to play on the street with a string quartet, or sometime just me and my friend Andrea, who plays the cello. And you know something? The kids ALWAYS stopped to listen. If they got distracted and left, it was because their parents started hurrying them along. Often they would have to be dragged away, looking back over their shoulders and asking for a coin to drop in my violin case.
On Monday Feb. 20th, we hosted a special Family Day Pocket Concert, and gave free tickets to everyone under 19. Of the 35 people in the audience, 18 of them were under the age of 16, and I would guess that the average age of the children was about 9. We decided to take a risk and play the same programme that we were playing in two other concerts: J.S. Bach's lengthy and challenging Goldberg Variations, arranged for String Trio by Dimitry Sitkovetsky. We've done a few concerts for children in the past, but this was the first time we've performed such a long piece without a break.
At all of our concerts, we curate the events to make them engaging and fun. We want people to feel at ease, and leave the concert feeling like they've learned something, so we usually warm up the audience with some stories or jokes, and point out a few things to listen for in the music. We've done this for adults for over three years now, but everyone knows that a kids' concert should be different, right? Their attention spans tend to be shorter than adults', and it's easy for them to lose interest in what's going on. Right? These days everyone is over-stimulated, and we need to keep up with the demand for constant entertainment. Right? And surely we would have to simplify our musical talking points, right?
So here's what we changed:
Here's what we did, and what we'll do again for our adult audience on Sunday:
1. We welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming.
2. We explained the origins of the piece, described its structure, and Bryan played the bass line that the variations are "bass"-ed on. (Get it?)
3. We taught the audience what a canon is, as opposed to a cannon (please forgive me. I can't stop myself). We explained that every three variations there is a canon, and with each successive canon, the starting notes of the two melodic lines get farther apart.
4. We demonstrated what it sounds like if you play the canonic voices at the same time, versus how they sound when they are displaced. We explained what an inversion canon is, with some handy diagrams and demonstrations.
5. We did a guided breathing/meditation exercise with the audience and musicians, to prepare everyone to listen. We could feel everyone in the room gradually quiet down and focus--the parents seemed to benefit as much as the children from this exercise.
6. We played the piece through from beginning to end, stopping every once in a while to give people a hint about what to listen for ("Here comes another canon!")
8. Questions and answers.
9. Party time.
Full disclosure: almost every child in the audience studies a musical instrument, so they definitely had some previously cultivated taste for what we were offering. But to sit through a 50-minute work without fussing, fidgeting, or distracting each other requires serious interest and engagement. And I guess that's my point: most kids are naturally interested in music, and don't really need much more guidance that the average adult. As with adults, the biggest challenge is to get their bums in the seats. From that point on, with a bit of guidance, their natural curiosity carries them along. After about ten minutes of playing, I stopped worrying about our little experiment, and started enjoying playing for a room of future concert-goers.
Thanks, kids. See you soon.
-Feb. 23, 2017-
* Okay, full disclosure again. We did give them little bags of chocolate at the end of the concert.