Family-Friendly Concert

Last Sunday, as foreshadowed, I went to hear Orchestra Romantique at the Paddington Town Hall.

Amazingly, I cannot remember ever having been into the Paddington Town Hall “Grand Hall” before. It is a funny room: it feels like a ballroom with minstrels’ galleries and sawn-off-at-the-bottom art-deco decoration at the sides. There is a minimal stage and the orchestra were on the same level as the audience with just a few risers for the back rows. Maybe the seating could beneficially be offset to improve the sight lines.

The hall was almost full. Before the concert began, as the crowd chattered and the orchestra warmed up, it was a jumble of noise. I was worried that we were going to hear nothing at all. That fear proved misplaced. The acoustic was surprisingly crisp.

Because I have already published a “plug” for this event, I am probably disqualified from offering any evaluative comment, and in any event, I am not a critic. Harriet Cunningham has given a reasonable account tempering critical rigour with encouragement. The one thing I would add to her account is that I would have preferred just a little more flexibility and yielding, that is, dare I say, warmth, especially at transitionary moments in the second and third movements of the Berlioz.

That’s a question of interpretation. As to the orchestra itself, despite their small numbers, the violins kept their end up remarkably well, and in the Berlioz there was indeed some “authentic” dividend apparent in brass and especially in the sharper sound of the smaller trombones in use and the milder sound of the ophicleide and serpent in comparison to their modern replacements.

The orchestra’s publicity has made much both of its intended modest admission prices and also the “family-friendly” times. In my experience, confirmed in this concert, cheap concerts create a kind of moral hazard: it is cheaper to bring the child than engage a babysitter. That hazard is increased when the concert is in the daytime on the weekend and the orchestra is working, or most of them are, for free.

Unfortunately my enjoyment of the concert was very much qualified by the presence and conduct just in front of me of a child who appeared to be the child of a member of the orchestra. The child was bored and restless and at the end of the concert rushed out at the first opportunity. The seat was too high for her feet to reach the floor and she was uncomfortable if she sat back in it. She kicked her heels. She sat on the floor. She looked around. She played with various objects. She moved her chair into the aisle. She sat on the floor again. This is not an exhaustive account.

The child seemed notionally to be in the care of and finished the concert on the lap of (and probably to the considerable discomfort of) an adult who might well have taken a few more sensible preventative steps to control, avoid or ameliorate the child’s conduct. Or so I would have thought, save that for all I know the child was entrusted to the adult by the orchestra member in question at the last minute. If that were so and in the absence of any more well-established relationship, the child could hardly have been taken out of the hall and down to Oatley Park to ride on the swings, which would have been best for all concerned.

Some of this is my own problem: I am too easily distracted and then angered by what seems to me to be a kind of vandalism (even worse because it is sometimes even entirely unwitting) inherent in this sort of thing. The anger is compounded by a kind of internal frenzy because I want to move or say something to bring it to an end but usually end up doing neither. I know that the child’s conduct distracted others. In retrospect, I should have moved, and not been shy or self-conscious about it.

I still hope that Orchestra Romantique’s venture prospers. I expect I shall go again. However, if a concert for adults is really going to be family-friendly, perhaps what it needs is a crèche in the foyer or otherwise close at hand where bored and restless children can safely and readily go.

3 Responses to “Family-Friendly Concert”

  1. harryfiddler Says:

    On the kid front, I’m with you. It’s lovely to see a young audience but it’s not lovely to be distracted by them. I find it excruciating to hear a child whinging/crying/not being attended — for everyone concerned, not least the child.

    This was dealt with brilliantly at the Four Winds Festival at Bermagui, where they had a children’s tent with professional carers and activities. I wouldn’t have been able to go to the festival without this, and nor, I suspect, would many of the musicians who travelled from far and wide. It’s a significant audience development strategy – removing barriers to attending and fostering a culture of concert-going at an early age.

  2. marcellous Says:

    When it’s just a 2-hour concert by an orchestra working on the basis that OR works one might need to settle for more impromptu solutions than the Bermagui model.

  3. Debbie Says:

    Getting something off my chest. : Taking Small Children To Concerts

    My bug to bear is children at concerts. I’m not talking about those loud, thumping, let your hair down affairs. I’m on about classical, sit still, listen attentively and clap at the correct times concerts. What happens when a well meaning parent or grandparent decides to take a small child is much like setting a time bomb. The audience are subjected to the machinations of a terrorist in the form of a cute underling.
    I admit, that as a musician, I am particularly sensitive to noise and distraction. I have been known to turn around and tell adults to ‘please not talk’ or even sometimes I just move away to another seat if they just can’t shut up. However children offer a much harder problem. Obviously they have been tagged along because a struggling orchestra will offer a rock bottom price for a Family ticket. Hey, it’s cheaper than the price of a baby sitter. However, wouldn’t the ankle biter prefer The Wiggles to Debussy ?

    What really gets me is the oblivion the adult usually shows to the disruption the child is making to the rest of the audience. It’s almost like we’re not there. We, who are sitting quietly and listening carefully can’t possibly expect another member of the audience (the feral child) to do the same. We are expecting too much. They would probably rationalise that the child is being exposed to great music at a tender age and will therefore end up being a true music lover or maybe, that they recently read somewhere, that a child who listens to ten minutes of classical music a day sleeps more soundly at night. Either way, the problem is ours.

    Here is my suggestion to remedy this situation. Firstly, concert organisers should disband the thought of selling Family Tickets. Just concessions for students and pensions will do. Secondly, if a child is distracting the audience (and you know this is happening because of the dirty looks you’re getting) for god’s sake take them out to the park down the road. Thirdly, and this will seem very extreme, I believe concert tickets should be sold with a guarantee like any other product. If the management can’t provide an atmosphere conducive to the type of music (and they soon will when people like me complain enough) you should be entitled to a refund.
    There, I feel a lot better already.

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