Here’s why you should take your kids to the orchestra

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Here’s why you should take your kids to the orchestra

By Stephanie Eslake

The concert hall is silent, but for the melody of a solo violin. Ascending and fluttering, it heralds a gentle string section poised to respond. But, just as you prepare to be lifted into this pastoral soundscape, your 7-year-old tugs at your arm and exclaims – entirely without shame – “I’m bored!”.

The conductor turns to glare at you, horrified by your parenting skills. Everyone is watching, and you drop your head in shame. You never recover.

Okay, this scenario might sound a bit extreme. But if you have a child, it may tap into your fears of placing them in a hushed formal environment when they couldn’t care less about keeping still (or about the fine art of knowing when to speak or even applaud).

If we take a step back and stop fantasising about the worst that can happen at the symphony – and instead start to dream up the best that can happen – we can open the door to some of the incredible benefits of live classical music. And these benefits shouldn’t be off-limits to kids. After all, the orchestra is for us all; it certainly isn’t an over-18 occasion.

As adult listeners, it can be easy to take for granted the many advantages music can bring, beyond the joy of the concert itself. So here are a few reasons why you should bravely face those fears of bringing your little one along to see the orchestra.

Classical music helps kids concentrate

It’s okay to expect that your kid may lose some concentration at a concert (and spontaneously kick the seat in front, or choose this moment to tell you what’s really on their mind). But research shows us that exposure to classical music can actually help children increase their levels of concentration.

In one study from the University of London Institute of Education, music psychology professor Susan Hallam presented classical music to about 250 children aged between 7-10 years. They heard Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and even Shostakovich, among a few other composers in which we grown-ups take delight. Hallam found the experiment led to “enhanced listening skills and the development of increased concentration and self-discipline”. It even helped these kids pay attention to their schoolwork.

It accelerates their brain development

While the “Mozart Effect” has long been contested – it may or may not increase children’s IQ by a few points – general exposure to music nevertheless brings about cognitive benefits.

Young kids can see an increase in “language development, sound, reading skill and speech perception”, according to Brain and Creativity Institute researchers.

It can help them feel relaxed

You may have listened to albums curated for calm, or heard about trendy classical-music-meets-yoga initiatives such as the ABC’s Classic Flow or the Perth Symphony Orchestra’s C.A.L.M. event. While it’s widely accepted that classical music reduces stress and anxiety, it’s not only adults who need relief from the pressures of modern life.

At more than 100 schools in the United States, young children and teenagers undertake a program called Mindful Music Moments.

Designed by relaxation expert Stacy Sims – who also works with victims of trauma – the popular program delivers orchestral recordings of classical music into classrooms. This empowers schoolchildren to start their busy day with positive mental health and wellbeing.

Of the morning music program, one student remarks: “I wish it would replay, because I just want to listen to it”; while educators insist it lowers their students’ anxiety levels and prepares them for learning.

They might actually like it

Your little one might find the orchestra “boring”. Then again, they might surprise you with a “wow!” after the talented musicians rip through an exciting piece of music, right before their eyes and ears.

In 2019, one enthusiastic 9-year-old yelled out a big “wow!” during a concert hosted by the Handel and Haydn Society. It was a moment of magic that everybody loved – so much so that it later became a viral online video.

The society’s CEO David Snead was so moved by this child’s passion for the music that he described it as “one of the most wonderful moments” of his career, and put a call out to find the child so he could greet him in person.

So how do you begin?

Despite the benefits, it may still seem daunting to take your kids to the orchestra. So why not give them a warm-up first?

There are many classical music releases designed for kids, which you can play them at home to get them used to the sound of a slower burn in the world of music.

Music for Your Infant: Classical Music for Young Minds is an ABC release you can listen to on Spotify, and it features a range of classic works from the likes of Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Bizet, Grieg, and Rachmaninov, just to name a few.

For the youngest ones, Symphony of Lullabies: Favourites is a Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra recording designed for babies to enjoy instrumental arrangements of calming songs including Brahms Lullaby, Greensleeves, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

In live music, orchestras often host events designed specifically to entertain the younger concertgoer. For Tassie parents, the Mini TSO series of events invites toddlers to sing and dance to the music in our studio (during daylight hours). The TSO also likes to nurture imagination through its regular children’s concerts, which are often narrated or include actors venturing onto the stage to share stories of magic and nature.

But the biggest family-friendly show is Symphony Under the Stars, which – having run for many years – may have been a fond past-time in your own childhood, too.

So if you’re feeling nervous about bringing your offspring along to an evening symphonic affair, there still exist many other opportunities to share the wonder of classical music with them. And when they’re ready, the orchestra would love to welcome the kids at any performance, so they can think “wow!”, too.

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