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Get your child into concerts.

by Steve Pickett, Education Director at the Hallé.

Getting children to listen to classical music from an adult’s perspective may seem a challenging task but actually what we tend to forget is that children have no preconceptions. They will listen to most things if it’s presented in the right way. The real key is early exposure. During those formative years from birth to four years of age, having classical music played around the house can really help – it certainly did with my family. Not only does it introduce children to the sounds of an orchestra but the music can also have a calming effect on a child’s behaviour and that, at times, can be a Godsend! The next tip involves leadership. Parents have to want this to happen and they have to show commitment, however this should never be done in a patronising way. You will need to lead your child on a journey of discovery and most importantly, adult preconceptions mustn’t be loaded onto the child. Your tastes in music are yours alone. In all of the thirty plus years that I’ve been involved with orchestras I’ve given up predicting what children will like and not like. I remember a Hallé concert a few years back where we had a number of young people in the audience. We’d been working with them on a creative project on one of the pieces in the programme – I forget which. The concert started with Gambit by the world renowned conductor/composer, Essa Pekka Salonen. Whilst our audience were a little fidgety during the performance – perhaps not so sure what to make of a piece of contemporary music! – the children and young people loved it!

Another piece of advice. This comes from our Hallé experience of providing participation in all our schools’ concerts, whether it be singing with the Orchestra in Hallé for Youth (during the spring term) or playing an instrument with the Orchestra in Come and Play with the Hallé (during the summer term). Encourage your child to play a musical instrument – preferably an orchestral one. There are countless international studies confirming that playing an instrument can be a valuable part of a child’s education. It teaches them commitment and concentration, and some academics even argue that it improves attainment in literacy and numeracy. At the Hallé we find that children who play an instrument are generally the best listeners. Once they start playing an orchestral instrument there’s a real logic to getting them to come to a concert to hear that instrument played professionally which can be a very inspiring experience.

We are fortunate in this country that successive governments have seen the importance of music in education and to that end the Whole Class Ensemble Teaching Programme (previously known as Wider Opportunities) means that very often children get the chance to learn to play an instrument in primary school. You should enquire at your child’s school or contact the local music education hub who may be able to provide instruments and lessons or, at the very least, point you in the right direction.

As I have mentioned schools’ concerts, parents should enquire at their child’s school as to whether a trip to hear an orchestral concert can be arranged. One of my other roles is as the joint-chair of the Association of British Orchestras Education Managers group. At our meetings I am constantly amazed at the variety of activities going on all across the country involving young people and orchestras. The Hallé’s figures for young people involved in our Education Programme this year are in excess of 35,000 – multiply that out across the land and then most people aren’t far away from a high quality professional musical experience. The vast majority of professional orchestras perform concerts specially designed for young listeners so that’s a good place to start. Another type of concert to take your child to is family concerts. As the title suggests, these concerts are specially designed for all the family so taking your child to a concert with other members of your family (grandparents etc.) can show them that it’s a good (and fun) thing to do. These concerts are up and down the country and entertaining, of high quality and are often presented so that the audience is told about the music before it’s performed. Nothing is too long so this reduces the risk of a child becoming bored.

Another tip - prepare your child before going to the concert. The internet can be a wonderful tool for this. You should look out for pieces which have a narrative because this can help your child to navigate through the piece. Check also whether any of the pieces involves a solo part or whether one instrument or a group of instruments is heavily featured. That information helps the child focus on what they are listening to. With music being so readily available on the Internet you could prepare your child by exposing them to various pieces in the programme leading up to the concert on Spotify or other such musical applications. However, the best thing is to do some homework yourself and talk to your child about what’s going to happen. If you don’t know yourself then for your own enjoyment and for theirs, treat the preparation for the concert as a journey of discovery for both of you.

Let’s assume now that you’ve bought your tickets and you’re ready for the concert. Where are you going to sit in the concert hall? Adults don’t necessarily take into consideration that today’s children are very visually stimulated. We reflect this at the Hallé, like a lot of orchestras do, by having a big screen upon which we show different close-up live images of the orchestra to accompany pieces in our schools’ programmes. My advice is don’t sit in the stalls. Get your seats on the first floor and above so that your child can see the whole stage. Watching the percussion section whizzing around playing a variety of instruments can be fun and just watching any group of players in a concert can be an interesting experience. I would suggest a really good place to sit is in the choir stalls, or behind the orchestra. That way, children are relatively close to the stage and can see everything – even the whites of the eyes of the conductor!

Finally, don’t be afraid to leave at the interval if you think your child has had enough. Yes, you’ve paid for the whole concert but it would be better not to put your child off in the future if they are tired and would rather go home. Better to leave with them wanting slightly more than too much!

Happy listening!