Cue the Pomp and Circumstance march. It’s graduation season! Here come rows and rows of beautiful young humans in caps and gowns, prepared to face an uncertain future.
I’ve been thinking about rites of passage a lot since my oldest, Beverly, will graduate from college this spring and my third and youngest, Gavin, is about to finish high school. His next move? He’ll study music in the fall. He wants to teach, which both thrills and worries me. But I’m a born worrier.
The truth is, all of my kids love music in general, but only Gavin will actually get into the car with me for a concert.
Based on my marginal success rate in raising classical music fans at home, I offer the following advice to parents of young children.
Please learn from my missteps.
- Take your child to a kid-friendly classical event FIRST. This was a parenting fail for me.
When Jack was eight or nine, I dragged him to the RPO for a performance of a Brahms piano concerto. It was late and long and Jack was asleep by the end of the cadenza. Shortly thereafter I took him and his older sister to hear Ossia, the excellent new music ensemble at the Eastman School of Music. From a child’s perspective, it was truly scary. The evening started with someone literally banging an old harp with a wrench through a loudspeaker. It got worse. When students in neon yellow t-shirts formed a circle and started shrieking about fruit in an alleotory piece called “Endangered Banana II,” my children came to believe classical music was weird and frightening. They were afraid to go to concerts with me. Looking back, I don’t blame them.
Start YOUR child with an RPO Kids concert, for example. They’re fun, not scary.
2. Follow your child’s muse, not your own.
This was also a rocky road at my house. In high school, when Jack wanted to drop the tuba and pick up the double bass, I pushed back until one of my colleagues at WXXI gently reminded me that he didn’t work for his high school. It’s supposed to be the other way ‘round. I relented, and Jack learned double bass and then electric bass, too. Then he and his friends formed a garage band, which might not have happened if I’d forced him to stick with tuba. He still plays. By the time Gavin was old enough to take lessons, I’d learned mine. He was more interested in learning about pop music, and so I didn’t push Mozart. Gavin’s excellent keyboard and theory teacher Randy Pollok infused him with confidence.
If your kid decides to learn an instrument and then changes her mind, go with the flow.
3. Keep calm and don’t freak out if your offspring is doing it “wrong.”
One time, the night before a solo festival, Gavin refused to practice scales and we fought bitterly. I ended up in a pool of angry tears on the living room floor. That’s when the light bulb went off. It wasn’t about me.
- When it’s time, make going to grown-up classical concerts with your kid an act of love and togetherness. I recently took Gavin to his favorite dim sum restaurant before seeing the RPO perform The Planets by Gustav Holst. I can still see the entranced expression on his face when the music started.
Fond memories will last a lifetime.
- Don’t take it too hard if your teen rejects classical music.
One time Jack walked into the kitchen where I was listening to a Beethoven symphony on Classical91.5 FM.
“How can you LISTEN to this?” he asked. “It’s 200 years OLD!”
The truth is that most self-described classical fans are over the age of thirty. The time may come when your kid grows to love the art form you love.
Be patient. That's my advice.