Over the weekend, I attended the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert, which featured works by Samuel Barber, Sergei Prokofiev and Maurice Ravel.
Although I could spend time talking about the fabulous pieces and the orchestra’s skill, what caught my attention was something that should make us all reflect on what classical music and symphony orchestras are really about.
Sitting a few rows in front of me was a young man, paying particular attention to Pianist Terrence Wilson’s performance of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, Op. 38. I observed the youngster perform “air” piano and then at one point, he copied Maestro Fabio Mechetti’s fluid movements. The young man periodically glanced at his father, smiled, eyes wide with delight, then returned his attention to the concerto.
Wilson’s own expression remained enthusiastic while he performed. He was unaware of the youth enraptured by his animated fingers and extensive ability, and he was oblivious to the thrill he was providing him.
Orchestras are working hard to engage today’s youth in the future of music performance. Nearly 500 youth orchestras across the U.S. involve more than 50,000 young musicians. Numerous studies have shown that there is a direct link between music and advanced education. Nearly nine in ten people (88 percent) with post graduate degrees, and eighty-three percent with incomes of $150,000 or more, participated in music education. Further, students in music programs scored 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math on standardized tests.*
Many orchestras implement other programs to engage our youth, while allowing symphony attendance to be affordable for entire families. For example, the Jacksonville Symphony offers the Sound Check Card, a $25 student season pass. Each pass allows for two additional people to attend a concert at $10 each.
Another program symphonies provide is family concerts, which are often designed to involve the audience. Family concerts are a unique opportunity to bring young children with short attention spans. Orchestras perform familiar music, sometimes combined with costumed dramas, video, and other engaging visuals.
During intermission at this weekend’s concert, I met the young man, eight-year-old Joseph, a one-year student of the piano. His dream is to perform, on stage, the works of Mozart and Vivaldi.
Joseph probably can’t tell us all the details of the piano concerto’s three movements, or the architecture of Barber’s composition.
What he can do is remind us that classical music isn’t complicated, but is simply there for our enjoyment. Attending the symphony is, in a word, fun.
How important do you think it is for our youth to attend symphony concerts?
*Sources: 2007 Harris Poll; University of Kansas Research; The National Association for Music Education; League of American Orchestras