My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Watching assumptions disappear in a "kiddie" performance

I believe that encountering experiences in which my assumptions are challenged is instrumental in my personal growth.  Sometimes these moments occur at expected or at least predictable times - when I'm in a group full of people who are "outside" of my social world or musical world, for instance.  But I find that it's the moments that are completely unexpected that are the most fun for me even though usually at first, they tend to knock me off my feet.  Last Tuesday, my husband and I, joined by a few of our musical friends, had the honor of putting on a "VIP" recital for one of my most important fans, my 5-year old daughter, and her childcare center class.  It was at this event that I walked in feeling like the classical music expert but walked out feeling like I was the one that had done much of the learning.

On this brief, interactive performance I had us start off with three of the movement from Camille Saint Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. My husband and I played the piano duo version of "Fossils" and "Elephants" and I accompanied the cello professor from Virginia Tech, Alan Weinstein (thanks again, Alan!) in the ever-so-popular "The Swan." Before starting the set, I told the kids which three animals (or ex-animals) would be represented in the music and that I would ask them to help us figure out which animal was which.  Tadd and I started with "Elephants" because I was convinced that this would be the easiest for them to identify.  We performed the number, being sure to add adequate heaviness and weight in both our parts and taking a slow enough tempo that the kids would be sure to immediately figure out that this music was of course, representing lumbering elephants.  Well, here is where the assumptions started crumbling.  I stood up after getting to the end and showed photos on the overhead screen of a swan, elephants, and fossils and asked, "So which one do you think it was?" Did I hear little kids shouting "Elephants!" in their no-duh tone of voice that kids are so famous for?  No!  At first there was the dreaded dead silence and when I asked again I heard a myriad of answers, most prominently, "Swans!" I was stunned - completely stunned because to me, this was all supposed to be crystal clear.  Hah! Was I wrong.  After taking a show of hands and getting a pretty even divide between all the animals, I decided that we should move on and listen to the next piece since that was sure to make the answers more obvious.

Next up was "The Swan."  Rippling right hand and rolling left hand of the piano representing the water, the velvety cello portraying the swan gently gliding on top of the water, singing it's swan song...or maybe not?  They clapped and shouted "bravo" and I thought for sure they had figured it out now.  Same question, "So which one do you think that music represented?" "ELEPHANTS!" I believed what followed was probably a complete look of puzzlement in my face transforming into more of an amused look.  "Well, OK...perhaps it does sound like an elephant but let's listen again to the piano part...[I return to the piano and proceed to replay the piano accompaniment]...what does that sound like? [complete silence again] about water?" At this point I looked out at the audience, 15 preschoolers and a handful of mothers and teacher, and I began to see a look of comprehension in the face of one of the adults, then in some of the kid's faces.  Slightly desperate, I continue, "And the cello represents the swan, riding on top of the water, or the piano part." That got some nodding heads, and some sighs of recognition but to tell you the truth, I'm not sure if that was because they really heard what I was hearing or if it was just because they could sense that I needed that response from them in order to get on with the show!

After completing the animal numbers, I was relieved to move on - not because I was frustrated with the audience in any way, but because by that point I had realized that I walked into the recital hall with some very incorrect assumptions about how people listen to music, and about how self-explanatory music is, or rather, isn't.  After my somewhat humorous awakening, I enjoyed playing the rest of the recital with simply the expectation that I would share some great music with some great kids and adults and that we would all have some fun along the way. And at the end of the morning, I left with an acknowledgement that there is much more than meets the ear when it comes to music.  

At least I think that's true...but perhaps that assumption will be blown to bits one of these days too.

That's OK with me.

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