San Francisco Symphony: Introducing Classical Music to a New Generation

These days, many kids grow up with the notion that classical music puts people to sleep.  It doesn’t have lyrics.  It doesn’t have a beat.  It’s played on clunky old instruments. And it was written by a bunch of white guys who have been dead for centuries.

Fortunately for the kids in Silicon Valley, we’ve got the San Francisco Symphony wake them up to the fact that classical music can be interesting and exciting.  They have one of the most extensive education and community programs offered by any orchestra in the US.  Their Adventures in Music education program introduces music to every first through fifth-grade child in the San Francisco Unified School District, filling a gap left by cuts in school music programs.  They also reach thousands of families throughout the Bay Area through their free summer concerts, Concerts for Kids program, Music for Families series, and their online education site, SFSKids.org.

We are extremely lucky to be sending our kids to an elementary school that takes full advantage of the Symphony’s educational programs, via their Concerts for Kids performances.   A child at our school gets three opportunities to attend a live orchestral concert performed by the San Francisco Symphonyl: once in kindergarten, once in first or second grade, and once in fifth grade.   I’ve had the privilege of chaperoning my kids to two of those concerts — I say “privilege” because this is one field trip that every parent wants to join, so chaperone slots are decided by lottery — and it is always a Big Event.

The kids dress up in their best clothes, and everyone gets a kick out of seeing each other in suits and ties, shiny shoes and sparkly dresses.   The whole class rides together on a school bus to Davies Symphony Hall.  The kids file into their seats, feeling very excited and grand.  Once the lights dim, nobody ever falls asleep, because each performance is cleverly designed to be engaging and appealing to young listeners.   Each performance is centered around a theme, such as Making Music, where the conductor highlights specific instruments, or Sounds of Music, where the conductor brings attention to the different sounds (thunder rolls, birds chirping, bees buzzing) in a music piece. The pieces are extremely kid-friendly; some of the tunes they’ve played include Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, Brahm’s Lullaby, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, even John Williams’ Star Wars theme (which, by the way, is a stroke of genius:  every little boy in the audience was glued to his seat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that performance inspired more than a few budding musicians).  Between each piece, the conductor turns around and speaks to his young audience; his fun facts and explanations  really bring each piece of music to life.  The concerts are only forty-five minutes long, so young attention spans don’t even have time to wander!

If your child’s school does not participate in the Concerts for Kids program, you can still introduce them to the wonders of a live symphony concert through the  Symphony’s Music for Families series.   Last weekend, my family attended a Music for Families concert, and I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.  The format is similar to the Concerts for Kids program: kid-friendly selections, different themes, shorter (60-minute) concert durations, lots of fun facts and explanations.   What’s more, their 2 p.m. start times makes it easy to get your kids home by their bedtimes, and  since kids’ tickets are half-price, it’s much more affordable than regular Symphony performances.  They even send you free musical educational materials to help prepare your kids for the concert.  What a great way to introduce classical music to a new generation and put a tired old stereotype to bed.

Read more about Bonggamom’s family’s trip to the San Francisco Symphony for the latest Music for Families concert on her personal blog, Finding Bonggamom.  For more information about the San Francisco Symphony’s Music for Families and other community programs, including their Summer Concert series, visit their website.  Note, there’s just one Music for Families concert left in 2012 — their July 1 season finale — so get tickets before they sell out!

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