On its 100th anniversary in December 2011, the San Francisco Symphony posted on its Facebook page this photo of kids enjoying an early symphony concert at the War Memorial Opera House, juxtaposed with a more recent shot of kiddos attending a concert at Davies Symphony Hall.
Immediately I thought of The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize–winning story “Pearls Before Breakfast,” about famed violinist Joshua Bell busking in a D.C. metro and the people who did or didn’t stop to take in the gorgeous sound of his playing for pennies during a typical morning rush hour.
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
It also reminded me of Aiden, the 9-year-old kid on KQED’s Perspectives series who seriously loves opera. When I first read the piece, I had two thoughts: 1) That’s awesome! and 2) Is this kid for real?
“A lot of kids misunderstand opera. Once I told a friend the plot of ‘Die Walkure.’ I knew it was the kind of thing he might enjoy. As soon as I told him it was an opera, he stopped listening and tried to change the subject. That’s what has happened with everyone else.
“There are so many reasons why I like opera: the complex plots, the amazing music, the interesting characters, the battle scenes and just the stories themselves. I really don’t understand why other kids don’t like it. What idiot came up with the idea that operas were boring for children?
“It doesn’t matter to me, I like what I like. But some day, I hope to meet another kid who has the same feelings about opera as me.”
I have to say that Aiden’s a lot more self-assured than I was as an undergrad. I remember attending a harpsichord recital in the beautiful Powell Library rotunda at UCLA one Friday night and thinking ruefully to myself, My gosh, what am I doing here?! I should be out clubbing or something. :] Nope, instead, I’m listening to a harpsichord recital. (But it was really cool to sit in that Romanesque-style space and listen that close to the performer.)