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Smackdown: Teens and 'Tweens in the Audience

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some opera houses and concert halls are trying to attract teens and 'tweens with discounted tickets and special programs. But not everyone thinks the strategy can work. Some believe the arts are an acquired taste that one develops later in life. Today: we debate kids in the concert hall. Joining us is Anastasia Tsioulcas, a music critic and mother of a toddler; and Rupert Christiansen, music critic at London’s Telegraph.

Weigh in: Do you think kids can appreciate a classical concert or opera? Why?


Rupert Christiansen and Anastasia Tsioulcas

Comments [64]

Yvonne from NYC

I took my 5 year old daughter to her first musical (Little Mermaid) first ballet (Nutcrakcer) and first opera (the abridged Magic Flute at the Met) last winter and expected her to like the Little Mermaid best. She liked all three but loved the opera and still talks about it. We have the CDs and she loves to sing the Queen of the Night's arias! I've taken her to family orchestral concerts at Carnegie Hall but she hates them. She always complains that the music is too loud - so perhaps the key is to always have some visual aspect as well, for small children. A great TV program with classical music is Little Ensteins. I wouldn't take her to "adult" concerts as she doesn't always sit still or keep quiet, but there are plenty of children's concerts etc going on.

Jun. 17 2009 02:47 PM
make mine mocha from Monmouth County, NJ

Important topic that hits home. As a retired instrumental music educator who taught in north jersey for over 30 years I applaud those of you who have introduced classical music and opera to your children. I have worked in the Broadway pit, toured with major recording acts, done every Bar Mitzvah and wedding, and always took my own kids and school musicians to the NY Phil and the Met. I also found that while you are conduction (actually conducting) music at any level you can also talk about physics, history, or almost any subject,
It's interesing how parents will always find a travel lacrose league but never take their children to a free local concert of classical music. I live in a community where the parents will find the travel sports team abd best boarding school but if you held up a trombone and a bassoon would ask which one is the saxophone.
A little exposure from the time children are young goes a long way whether it is string theory with Michio Kaku, talking about the Continental Conogress, or going to see Fred Wesley perform at 70 in the Village! Sorry for being long winded but what is better than the finale of the Firebird or any of Mozart's rhondos from the four horn concertos!! Children need to get some of this "stuff".
I played basketball and started on my high school team as well as ran track in the off season.

Jun. 16 2009 09:20 PM
Deryck from Jersey City

That's right, we have three fine conservatories that provide wonderful concerts for free -
PLUS concerts in the park.
There is also a growing in-house concert movement. In many communities more and more folks are hosting inexpensive or free classical concerts in their own homes given by first class young musicians.
(This is not meant to be an endorsement)

Jun. 16 2009 05:31 PM
Miss Anthropy from Metro NY Thruways

I listen on the way home from my job working as an aide in a high school.
I come from a family of musicians, and grew up attending classical music rehearsals, recitals, and operas. A pivotal fifth grade trip to Lincoln Center to see Carmen was great. Also the singing orange on Sesame Street.
I agree that music and arts education is really lacking in our culture.
I still like opera, but alas and alack I married a man who does not ; the compromise aregilbert and sullivan and bands like The Decemberist's.

Jun. 16 2009 04:49 PM
Anastasia Tsioulcas from

Very glad to see/hear all these comments!

I just wanted to reference a piece I briefly referred to during this of the most interesting things to me was watching & hearing the reactions of NYC kids who had zero exposure to classical music before being asked to dance "The Rite of Spring":

They had no preconception that classical music was boring, or for old people, or somehow not for them.

Jun. 16 2009 03:49 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

Joel Meyer, you are a workhorse. All your efforts are much appreciated.

Jun. 16 2009 03:35 PM
The Tyer Family from Jacksonville Fl

I am glad to see that so many of you welcome children in the arts. Here in Jax we have the Jax Symphony Orchestra that offers a Sound Check card for children over 5yrs old that allows them with the parents to attend evening performances for 5$. I have a 3&5yr old, both girls, who enjoy the concert experience, the ballet and the opera. The JSO offers family daytime concerts in which all ages can attend. The eldest recently sat wide eyed through an entire 3 hr Turundot opera. Afterwards they often will paint depictions of the actors and scenery as well as discuss and question what they saw. After an art gallery visit the playdough no longer was smashed up putty but became horses and statues.Thier paintings, lacking perfection, were of people, animals, flowers and boats. While the tickets to major events may seem expensive, where can one buy quality experiences with thier family that can last a lifetime? Because I can see the advantages within my own family of the experience gained from the exposure to the arts, yes I believe that they shold be allowed to attend.

Jun. 16 2009 03:22 PM
KC from Manhattan

Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard, and Mannes College of Music have free concerts all the time.

Jun. 16 2009 03:04 PM
Deryck from Jerseyt City

There are tons of wonderful family-friendly classical concerts for under $25 (many are free) every summer. Community arts schools like Third Street, Bloomingdale, Harlem School of the Arts, Brooklyn Lyceum, and many others throughout the area provide excellent year round (see Time Out Kids).

Jun. 16 2009 02:58 PM
Deborah Wohl from Maplewood NJ

Michael B (41) - I too lived with WNCN and then WNYC FM until 9/11. I was subjected to WQXR as a kid and it was okay until the commercials became primary to the music.

Both my kids are musicians and had great programs in school. My daughter sang the Mozart Requiem her senior year in high school (Columbia HS in Maplewood NJ). The parents in our district hold fundraisers to keep the music programs strong.

Jun. 16 2009 02:50 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Reposting another comment, this one from J.D. Hildebrand from Bergenfield, NJ:

Here's a shout-out to the instrumental-music teachers who exposed me to classical music starting with clarinet lessons and concert band in third grade. My lifelong love of classical music -- and later, jazz -- is a gift from these underappreciated educators.

Jun. 16 2009 02:49 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Reposting this comment from William in Manhattan (which appears on today's page for John Kelly's segment)

I attended Catholic school in Pittsburgh in the 1960's and was introduced to both opera and ballet in the the 6th grade. The nuns took us on monthly "field trips" to the Pittsburgh Opera and the Pittsburgh Ballet dress rehearsal performances on Friday afternoons. We prepared for the performance by reading the about what we would be seeing in our literature classes. This continued through my Sr. year in High School. I continue to love both opera and ballet today. It was a wonderful way to be introduced and enjoy seeing these performances, with your friends, and always looking forward to going on monthly field trips.

Jun. 16 2009 02:48 PM
Beth from Jersey City

My company, Cohen Arts & Education has had a program for the past 4 years which takes students AND their families from Jersey City to cultural arts venues such as the The Metropolitan Museum, NYC Ballet and New Victory Theater etc. through a contract with the Jersey City Public Schools. All of the venues we take them to are free or low cost. These families are mostly working class, many are new immigrants and while many are initially intimated, they end up loving these experiences. The purpose of the trips is to prove to parents that they can do it on their own and after they do it with us, they do! It is all about INFORMATION, ACCESS and EXPOSURE. We give the parents those three components and they in turn continue on. This is what the major Arts venues should know: Reach out through programs like this.
Beth Cohen

201 993-1549

Jun. 16 2009 02:47 PM
Nancy from Little Silver, NJ

We took both our kids to all kinds of events when they were young, and ended up with a dancer/filmmaker and a jazz saxophonist. I think it "worked" because we were sharing our love for the arts, not force-feeding our children broccoli.

And btw, we recently had the opportunity to go to a children's program at the LA Phil, and the program of contemporary music had the kids on the edges of their seats. The Philharmonic played Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Wing on Wing," a piece inspired by Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the program explored the connection between the piece and the hall by incorporating dance and theater (including a guest appearance by Gehry). The series is always sold out and it was easy to see why.

Jun. 16 2009 02:47 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Hey Jean-Michel [42]: High Five site is at:

(Ignore the link I posted in #49 above!)

Jun. 16 2009 02:46 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

A quick compilation of responses:

on-air guest Anastasia:

Judy: the Met, $25 for balcony seat, weeknights

KC from Manhattan: "Dale can see performances with Opera Company of Brooklyn very inexpensively."

Deborah: kodo drummers + 3-year-old = happiness (equation mine, sentiment Deborah's)

Jun. 16 2009 02:44 PM
raulistic from Prospect Heights

I'm a composer, and I can't say how often people tell me "my parents wanted me to play music, but I didn't want to. I wished they had forced me." After hearing these comments for years, I will force my daughter. Even if she hates it and rejects it, she will at least develop a musical sensibility that she will enjoy for the rest of her life.

As a performer, I have also seen over and over how children often listen to music better than adults.

Jun. 16 2009 02:43 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

it's absolutely imperative--part of the development of both cultural literacy, and an appreciation for the history of music in general (to say nothing of learning to sit through a perfomance that can last more than an hour--something lost on today's youth). as an elementary school student, we were brought to symphony performances,the ballet, and even the opera by both my school and my parents. i would never have attempted to play an instrument if i hadn't had this exposure early on.

Jun. 16 2009 02:41 PM
wanda bershen from nyc

As an arts administrator for many years -- it is disturbing to hear one comment about so what if kids have a on time special treat -- will they buy tickets later???

That is a BIG jump and NOT the right question.
Arts education is about repeated exposure so kids at least become familiar with new kinds of music, art,etc. And anyone who work sin the arts these days is well aware that arts ed & outreach is essential --- since some of those kids will be the future audience.

Take a look at the kinds of Ed done by the NY philharmonic -- it is truly impressive!I invited the dir of Ed to my grad seminar -- and the students were entranced.

Jun. 16 2009 02:40 PM
monika from NYC

I was not brought up with opera but when I was pregnant my baby was highly responsive to certain instruments when I listened to live music at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
After he was born the only thing that would calm him and really grab his attention as a few day old and few week old baby was listening to Puccini and Verdi. I still can't say I am so familiar with opera, although I can enjoy classical, but my child is highly attentive to particular composers of opera and especially the arias. I'm glad we live in NYC because I certainly will take him to whatever concerts I can that are geared to children. I hope that there will be many available that will allow children to express their excitement and not disturb those who need the quiet to enjoy.

Jun. 16 2009 02:38 PM
Brianne from Manhattan for kids but are there affordable ways for strapped adults to see the opera????

Jun. 16 2009 02:38 PM
judy from NYC

A live performance at the Met can be had for 25.00...balcony seat, weeknights.

Jun. 16 2009 02:37 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

is it "high5" "highfive" "hi5" or "hifive" .org?

Jun. 16 2009 02:37 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Carol [35], I so agree with you. The change of programming by WNYC since 9/11 HAS adversely affected future potential classical music lovers. I learned the classical repertoire by listening to WNCN 24X7 years ago. Alas, we all know that that great station was lost to us 30 or so years ago.

Jun. 16 2009 02:37 PM
Jack from Brooklyn

As a child growing up in Brooklyn, my brother (who is older than me and living in Manhattan) thought it was his duty to drag me to cultural events at Lincoln Center and other places. These were—and still are—some of the most miserable experiences of my life. The constant air of these events being "good" and my love of pop-culture as a 10-year-old kid being "bad" was smothering.

You can''t force-feed culture down anyone's throat. It never helps.

Jun. 16 2009 02:36 PM
Tiana from NJ

Urban Voices - why do we always assume because children aren't wealthy that they come from a dysfunctional household. The children enjoyed the show - isn't that enough without maing assumptions.

Ugh - the "do gooder" strikes again!

Jun. 16 2009 02:36 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I believe the Met has reduced the price of their lowest priced tickets expressly for the purpose of attracting young people. In fact, it may be that you cannot buy it unless you are a certain age or younger.

Also, the NYC Opera is considerably less expensive than the Met, although it's been a few years since I had a subscription to the NYC Opera season.

Jun. 16 2009 02:34 PM
nancyt from Princeton, NJ

I think playing classical music at home will allow the music to become part of them and part of their music experience. Then, they will love hearing it live. I played Carmina Burana to my daughter when she was in the womb. She loves it now and saw it live at Lincoln Center and it was very exciting for her. That's just an example, if they hear it played they have a better chance of growing to love it rather than being "thrown" into the concert hall as their first experience.

Jun. 16 2009 02:34 PM
KC from Manhattan

Re: [18] Dale can see performances with Opera Company of Brooklyn very inexpensively.

Jun. 16 2009 02:34 PM
Carol from NJ

In the olden days before Ipods, when WNYC-FM played music all day, I listened all day and so did my daughter, so I was prepared when at 13 she asked to go to the opera.

I can't imagine that happening now unless a parent was able to provide the programming that Steve Post and the rest of the hosts used to do at WNYC.

Jun. 16 2009 02:33 PM
Mary from North Jersey

I am listening to a lovely piece on “children at the concert hall” and, of course, John Schaefer has to inject a political stab into it. Get over it, Bush is gone……this is show about music—NOT POLITICS.

Jun. 16 2009 02:32 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

When Rupert was 16 Opera tickets didn't cost $200

Jun. 16 2009 02:32 PM
Deborah Wohl from Maplewood NJ

I took my then 3 year old son to see the Kodo Drummers. He was fascinated. I introduced my kids to classical orchestral music through the Rush Hour concerts at the NY Phil (affordabale). I saw my first opera at the old Met at the age of 7 (my parents and grandparents shared a sub in the Family Circle (side entrance only). I had my own sub at the Met(balcony) until I had to give it up to attend Law School at night. My kids are now 22 and 20 and have sung with me in my excellent community choral society in New Jersey while in high school - I have been taking them to my concerts since I started singing with the Harmonium Choral Society in 1992. Unfortunately, the opera has been too expensive to allow me to take them to an opera or to a ballet for that matter. Now I would like to introduce my son to the full Ring since he's a big fan of gaming and Tolkien. My daughter continues to sing in college. This is a great segment. Thanks.

Jun. 16 2009 02:32 PM
Keith from Midtown

I was lucky enough to be exposed to Opera while in high school. My English teacher was an Opera lover and taught his class immersed in it. We'd listen to Wagner, Puccini, and Verdi, and write about what we thought. Not bad for a school in the middle of no-where high school in upstate NY. I can't say I'm a huge fan, but I do like it and I'm sure I can credit my teacher for it.

Jun. 16 2009 02:31 PM
Stuart Garber from Brooklyn

I used to do office work for a NYC org, the Little Orchestra Society, that had a series to introduce orchestral music to pre-schoolers with actors playing characters representing different sections of the orchestra: Bow the Panda for the Strings, etc. The programming was delightful, the house always full and parents and kids seemed to have a wonderful time! (I was pretty cynical going in, but... it worked!)

Jun. 16 2009 02:29 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

I need to reiterate;

"Re: [18] Opera and classical fans...where can Dale catch a classical or operatic performance for 10-20 bucks? "

Where can one see some cheap culture in this town?

Jun. 16 2009 02:29 PM

If you want your teenagers to like opera, play lots of rock music around them.

Jun. 16 2009 02:29 PM
judy from NYC

I love the opera. i was introduces by my grandmother, who listened to the Met Opera broadcasts every Sat. Nobody told me to like it or not, it was just there.

As for taking kids to the opera, it's like anything else, it depends on the child. You should give kids opportunites

Jun. 16 2009 02:27 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

PS- Opera and classical music isn't just for the privaledged and caucasian either. I grew up poor and black and still grew up loving classical music and opera. (sp?)

Jun. 16 2009 02:26 PM
Walt pavlik from Jersey shore

Take them to something that you liked as a kid. If they never go, they will never know.

Jun. 16 2009 02:25 PM
Soundcheck producer Joel Meyer from WNYC

Re: [18] Opera and classical fans...where can Dale catch a classical or operatic performance for 10-20 bucks?

Jun. 16 2009 02:25 PM
Sally from Chelsea

My first opera was Aida with my Mom in high school. While I had heard and appreciated opera it wasn't until I saw the fanfare and production that music became meaningful. I think you need to give kids a 360 degree view of the arts(singer, production, story etc.) to help fully appreciate the medium at a young age so they have something to associate the music with.

Jun. 16 2009 02:25 PM
Richard Storm from Hell's Kitchen

I was lucky in that in my childhood my mother would tell me the stories of operas and tone poems on family drives and then when I was hooked on the story, she would play me the music. Not only was my interest whetted by hearing the story, when I heard the full work I knew what was going on. Thanks, Mom!

(And would that parents who do take their kids to concerts and operas would prepare their children this way -- how many times have I had my concert and opera going ruined by a parent talking to their child throughout the work to help them understand it -- isn't that something they should have done before they were in the seats?)

Jun. 16 2009 02:24 PM
jollyd from NYC

I disliked Opera all the way through Music Conservatory (MSM).
Opera, like the blues, means a lot more once your lived a little. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the classical music, including opera used in Saturday morning cartoons back in the fifties and sixties.

Jun. 16 2009 02:24 PM
Terry Joshi

Can we say children instead of kids?

Children can and do appreciate all forms of classical music and opera because they are sponges and if we do not prejudice the case ahead of time they will respond viscerally to the music.

Of course audiences are grey now and have always been so. The 20-50 age group does not have disposable income or time! Notice, however, once both those things are available to them, they come back and fill concert halls in droves. The key is to at least capture everyone's interest as children so that once they can spend the time and money on the arts they are predisposed to do so.

Jun. 16 2009 02:24 PM
John Provinsal from New Jersey

The human spirit is moved deeply by music. Whether baroque, classical, spiritual, broadway or hip hip, music stirs the soul.

The soul resonates with truth and opera, with its clear and vibrant expression, penetrates as with the truth.

Go opera, go to opera!

Jun. 16 2009 02:23 PM
Dale R. from Greenpoint

It's simply a matter of cost. I'm a 20-something who was raised on every kind of music under the sun. I enjoy classical and opera as well as hip hop and rock. But when I look at the price of a concert ticket, I can see a rock show for ten or twenty bucks; I'd have to shell out a hundred dollars or more to see a classical performance. That's just not feasible for a young person's budget.

Jun. 16 2009 02:22 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

What about introducing kids to music on long car trips? They're a captive audience, and if it takes you can take them to the live performance.

Jun. 16 2009 02:22 PM
david lee from Brooklyn

I was taken to a puppet opera version of La Traviata at around age 8 for which I dressed in a suit and tie. I can still remember the feeling of the wool pants I wore. I didn't listen to opera again for 30 years, and the only thing I think it prepared me for was the Who singing My Generation. "Why don't y'all fade away".

Jun. 16 2009 02:21 PM
Jen Rosenstein from New York City

Regarding good choral programs: The Rudolf Steiner School in NYC has one. We sing from kindergarten through twelfth grade and our program is fantastic and rich. Granted we are a private school, but our curriculum has been committed to a live classical music program for 80 years.

Jun. 16 2009 02:21 PM
Jennifer from NYC

My mother always took me to the theater when I was small - I loved it! I loved the music and singing along with the cast albums at home!

Jun. 16 2009 02:21 PM
Jean from Brooklyn

Its interesting that your guest thinks if he hadn't been introduced as a teenager to this music, he might have been an accountant. Yet, what if he had been introduced to it at the age of 3? How might his life have been different then? Perhaps he still would have been a "Beatles boy" and appreciated and loved the opera?

Jun. 16 2009 02:19 PM

I had a wonderful literature and music class in high school that introduced me to opera by way of musicals that were adapted from various operas (Like La Boheme via Rent) and the works of literature from which some operas sprung (Romeo and Juliet).

I think if you can show teens/kids that opera's not this untouchable, snooty, bloated thing -- which is exactly the impression Rupert's giving off -- they might get into it.

Jun. 16 2009 02:19 PM
Barry from Elmira, NY

When I was a kid (maybe 10 or 12) my parents bought a collection of LP pop music which included a record of Gilbert and Sullivan. They never played this one but I did on my own. I was immediately hooked and have been listening to classical music ever since. I think The Magic Flute or Gilbert and Sullivan are great places to start.

Jun. 16 2009 02:18 PM
John from Bkyln

Why is there even a debate?! Getting kids interested in music is always a great idea. Why can't kids see an opera one night, a jazz show the next and a hip-hop show a few nights later? That's the great thing about living in NYC! And so much of it--especially in the Summer-- is free.

Jun. 16 2009 02:18 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

I have a *huge* gripe with parents who take their toddlers and kindergarteners to performances who are clearly, clearly not ready for it. The same for movies. I was recently at a Merce Cunningham performance where I not only had to deal a disappointing performance, but had to put up with a couple who brought their two very young children, approx 3 and 5. They talked throughout the performance, and despite glares from all the audience members around them, the parents were completely oblivious.

I don't think that it is appropriate to bring children that young, or fair to other audience members. I also think that venues should forbid it. I have taken my son to many different types of performances during his life (he is now 17), but only when he was *ready* for the experience and knew how to behave even when he wasn't enthralled.

Jun. 16 2009 02:17 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

Testify, Anastasia!!

Jun. 16 2009 02:16 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

That's because Hip-hop is cheaper than opera.

Jun. 16 2009 02:15 PM
KC from Manhattan

I started performing with the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera children's choruses when I was 11. A black boy from Washington Heights, I told my mom I was going downtown to audition on a Saturday morning. She said, "That's nice, dear... Do YOU SING?!?" I can't imagine my life without loving classical music.

Jun. 16 2009 02:15 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Not sure where I come down on this question, but certainly the choice of the music is important. You wouldn't introduce anyone to classical music by taking them to hear the Beethoven late quartets. At least, I don't think so.

Also, perhaps some of the great musicals are a good entre to opera?

Jun. 16 2009 02:15 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

Teenagers aren't interested in anything other than other teenagers and whatever the newest trend is.

Does this mean that we shouldn't teach kids about History or Math or Literature until they're old enough to appreciate it. I grew up listening to Bowie, African Bumbata and the Ramones, but all the while, I loved any opportunity to go see a symphony in a huge music hall.

Jun. 16 2009 02:12 PM
Sonny from NYC

I took my 16 year old son to three operas this year, and he loved all of them, each for different reasons: Doctor Atomic for the history , Salome (nude woman and biblical story, and Gotterdamerung, for the fantasy. He loved the music in all of them.

Jun. 16 2009 02:11 PM
bob from NYC

i go to NY Philharmonic's rehearsals every time they are available. what i see is that many of older people just sleep during the concert. many of kids as well, but older (i guess above 60), especially ladies. they eat "loud" food, they go and come back during the performance, forget to silence their phones. like kids. r

Jun. 16 2009 02:05 PM
Jean Michel from Westchester, NY

Kids can most definitely appreciate Opera and Classical music; in fact at times more-so than many adults who after a certain age tend to be unwilling to give new music a try.

When I was a child, my favorite episodes of Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry were always those that were interpreting a classic symphonic piece or opera. At the time I thought it was just music that the animators had come up with for the episode, but as time went on, I learned where the tunes came from and sought out more like it.

Kids are learning sponges. Bombard them with music, film, fine art and literature and it will breed abstract thought and creative problem solving which in turn makes them better adults, instead of republicans. Hehehe.

Jun. 16 2009 01:56 PM

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