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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Getting cultured
November 23, 2011 - 6:07am

Our family recently attended a symphony concert. It was a matinee performance geared for families, and the sold-out concert hall was packed with moms, dads, grandparents, and squirrelly, dressed-up youngsters all eager to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons on a big screen with live orchestral accompaniment. A large, blank screen hung above the stage where the musicians warmed up and ran through tricky bits. My husband and I, as did all the adults around us, pointed down at the instruments from our balcony seats, wanting to make sure our children took notice.  Hear the piccolo?  See how small it is?  Listen to the xylophone.  Look, there’s a French horn!  Oh, it’s time for them to tune to the oboe!  Hear that?  Isn’t this cool?  This is culture!  Here’s your chance to take in all you can!  Appreciate it!   

It soon became clear, however, that the big screen was the focus of many kids’ attention.  The orchestra introduced the afternoon program with a stirring rendition of Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians” from the opera The Bartered Bride (which we later learned was a musical theme featured in every Roadrunner cartoon). We’ve played a CD of this symphonic work at home for our kids, and now experiencing it live I was choked with emotion to hear it played with such virtuosity.  I was sure my kids would be equally moved, but my daughter only said in a very loud whisper, “I thought this was supposed to be cartoons! Why isn’t there anything on the screen?” The video-free portion of the concert lasted only a few minutes at most, but it was clear that there was a lot of wiggling and restlessness in seats around us. Once the cartoons kicked in we all had a great time. The orchestra even took a break a few times, and we watched segments with the original recorded soundtrack. It’s no wonder the musicians needed a breather — every piece on the program was loud, attention-getting, and frenetic, with lots of brass, fast bowing in the strings, and crashing percussion. There was nothing subtle about the performance, and it’s no wonder many of the musicians wore ear protection. The music was extraordinary, but it was an “in your face” kind of event, which no doubt generated lots of excitement and perhaps piqued the interest of future symphony fans.  

On the one hand I was left feeling that our family has to do something like this again soon, it was so much fun. We’ve talked about trying to see one of the opera classics (after all, Bugs Bunny cartoons have given the kids an introduction to Barber of Seville).  However, it’s also left me thinking about other ways to impart a love of the arts. I realize that overt exposure isn’t the only way in which we influence our children.   

When I was growing up, a Disney recording of “Peter and the Wolf” was the closest thing I had to Baby Mozart. In my teen years, while I listened to a variety of music at reasonable volume in the privacy of my own room, I was one of the few kids I knew who complained about parents’ loud music. My father loved (and still loves) Bach organ works, and I was often blasted out of bed on Saturday mornings by toccatas and fugues blaring from speakers set up all over the house. Many years later, during stressful graduate school days, I bought a CD of Bach organ works, and playing it reminded me of my parents. After years of being scared awake on weekend mornings, I’d actually grown to enjoy the music. 

One day recently my daughter was humming in her bedroom, and I realized that she was singing the Sanctus from a William Byrd choral mass setting I’d been practicing earlier in the week. She’d overheard me doing something I love to do — sing. I’d never presented Byrd’s music to her in kid-friendly format or deliberately attempted to introduce her to Renaissance music. I needed to practice, and she happened to hear me.  It made me realize that our children absorb an awful lot by osmosis.  Maybe when she grows up the music of William Byrd will remind her of me or of home. 

I look forward to seeing my children’s interests develop in coming years, and I certainly hope that visual and performing arts will be part of their lives.  For now we take turns picking music on the car stereo. As my kids try to broaden my horizons, Lady Gaga is slowly growing on me. 


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