What Terrence Wilson, Samuel Barber and Kids Teach Us About Classical Music

Over the weekend, I attended the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert, which featured works by Samuel Barber, Sergei Prokofiev and Maurice Ravel.

Pianist Terrence Wilson (photo: Fadil Berisha)

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

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9 Responses to What Terrence Wilson, Samuel Barber and Kids Teach Us About Classical Music

  1. fenderbirds says:

    nice article, keep the posts coming

  2. Sebastian says:

    What a wonderful story!

  3. LaSharron says:

    No problem at all. I’ll try to post some tomorrow.

  4. J.M. Lacey says:

    Thanks for sharing the information, LaSharron. There are a lot of nice programs at TUC!

  5. LaSharron says:

    Music (and fine arts in general) are the the first programs to go because educators feel the academic is the only necessity and fine arts is a luxury for the people who can afford it. Ironic thing is the educators who feel this way have the means to have music education for their children. It’s a shame, because everyone enjoys music, so everyone should have the ability to be educated in it.

    Case in point: A boy I went to school with played on a trumpet a few times. It was obvious he had talent, and he wanted to play. The school system didn’t have a music program. His family couldn’t afford a trumpet or music lessons for him to learn how to read music. So now at 24, he’s just now gotten enough money to be able to start lessons.

    I have a brochure from the Times Union Center in Jacksonville with special rates for children. They have a lot of neat music and dance programs for children to be able to interact and have fun learning about dance and music. Jacksonville has a wonderful fine arts program.

  6. J.M. Lacey says:

    It’s true that parents, teachers and other role models can have a profound effect on a child’s education, particularly music education. By encouraging our children to learn an instrument, for example, experience something new, they can see on their own that it is a fun thing to do. And it stays with them.

    Honestly, the only time I’ve seen children turn up their nose at classical music or learning an instrument is after someone (usually a peer or parents) tell them the music isn’t “cool.”

    What’s not “cool” is the lack of knowledge about the relationship with music and secular education. And that is why music education is always the first to go when schools make budget cuts.

    Thank goodness the symphonies work hard to bring the music to the children.

  7. LaSharron says:

    I think attending is a good idea for people (all people, but especially young people) to learn to appreciate different music genres, even if they find it’s not their favorite music. But I do realize that only goes as far as the homefront allows it. For example, I like classical music, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if I didn’t have a father in the house who loves classical music. My mother and brother hated classical (well, they still do…) and oppose listening to it. We would never have went to a symphony because of that. I wasn’t in band or music in school. But if I had children, would I encourage them to get involved in music? Probably. I would try to make sure they enjoyed it, though, and not feel like a job or a chore to play or practice.

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