How can you expose your kids to music that both you and they will enjoy? You may have tried taking your children to a concert where they became slightly perturbed because they were not supposed to speak or jump up and down. Or you may have attended one or two of those kids' concerts where screaming was perfectly acceptable, and probably welcome, since the music itself was kind of dopey.
The solution: a weekend at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, where the atmosphere is sophisticated, the music first-rate and the mood super fun. The Berkshires outpost has tons of space where kids can run around and even stumble upon the occasional ice cream cart. And you don't even have to pay for them - -children younger than 17 get free lawn tickets to most concerts.
Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, makes it incredibly easy to introduce even young children to the joys of music. For the most family-focused encounter, try to go on one of the weekends that Tanglewood devotes to families. I visited with my nine-year-old twins during one of their August family weekends, which included an afternoon family concert. We started our visit at the Instrument Playground, a huge tent set up with a host of instruments for each child to try out. Volunteers patiently helped a very eager stream of children get the hang of numerous instruments. Forget the ubiquitous triangle, at Tanglewood kids get to experience the flute, French horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello and drums. Not surprisingly, the drums were quite popular. Also part of the weekend activities was a Kids Corner aimed at younger children, who could participate in music-themed arts and crafts activities.
And then there was the actual music. After trying out a couple of instruments, it was time for the family concert to begin. Everyone strolled across to the grass towards the semi-enclosed Ozawa Hall. Some folks chose to go inside for a more traditional concert experience and to be closer to the action. But a large number of families listened right outside on the lawn. The program was a brisk 45 minutes and explored folk music from around the world. Included was music (and a little dancing) from Ireland, South America, China and New Orleans, among other locales. The music was played by a very cheerful group of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
According to Jessica Schmidt, the Helaine B. Allen Director of Education at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the best way to introduce kids to music is just to expose them to it and then ask them what they do and don't like about what they are hearing. She says that some parents are worried about making a mistake, but that "music is a safe and friendly art form."
I would add that an expansive setting also helps. The night before, we attended a non-family, "regular" evening concert and loved that as well. Listening to a full orchestra outside at night was a terrific way to experience a concert. In fact, there is something wonderful about combining music and nature and lots of space. Surprisingly, it makes listening easier.