Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Concert Rant

Three hours.  My kids' choir concert Sunday was three hours.  There is no excuse for a children's concert to run for three hours, unless it is an extraordinary three hours that feels like less than half that.  But it was not.  It was an insipid three hours.

I feel terrible writing that, because I don't fault any of the children, or the instructors.  My children have loved their choir and it has provided them with some wonderful experiences.  There is no individual I have a problem with and I could go on and on about any number of positive things.

However.  I think I am done with this group and it's time to find my kids somewhere else to sing.  And I need a moment to rant, because I actually left this concert feeling mad, and that should not happen.  How do you mess up children singing?

Granted, we already went into the concert a bit worn out because Saturday Quinn had a piano recital in the morning and Aden had two choir performances in the Nutcracker, and Sunday was Mona's turn to sing at the ballet before both Aden and Mona were required to be at the 3:30 call time for their concert.  So Mona left for the Nutcracker at 1:00 in one outfit and was asked to bring her choir gear to change into and a snack to eat.  A snack.  What would you pack?  I went with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bottle of water.  Had I any idea she wouldn't get any food again until bedtime I would have chosen differently.  (Not that she even got to eat her sandwich, so that would have been out of my hands regardless.  Anyway....)

The choir is expensive.  But that's okay.  I believe in paying good music teachers well.  I believe in expert instruction and students learning good technique while also having fun.  I just want a place for my kids to sing with others, and I don't mind paying for that.

Then there are the overpriced uniforms.  And the fine if you don't volunteer.  And the fundraisers.  And the constant requests for donations.  And the silent auction baskets (with starting bids higher than anything I can afford to pay) and cookies for the concessions stand and the driving to special events and extra rehearsals.

I also have to buy tickets to the concerts.  I have to pay usually about $15 to hear my kids sing each time, and I never get to sit in the good seats because those are reserved for "Season Ticket Holders."  I was already resenting that after paying for my kids to be in the choir I also had to pay to hear the results of all that tuition money (and that it's too expensive for all of us to go), but the Nutcracker kind of pushed me over the edge.

I am very glad they got to sing in the Nutcracker.  I am.  They LOVED it.  They got to sing in the pit where the orchestra was performing, and they got to see their teacher there who is with the ballet orchestra, and they thought all the behind the scenes stuff of a professional ballet in action was exciting to witness.  However, if they wanted to stay and watch any of the Nutcracker after their part was over they had to buy a ticket.

As a musician this sits with me very badly.  Because at that point those children are just working for free.  The work we do in the arts is already drastically undervalued, but to not even set aside a small row of seats for any choir children who want to stay and watch some of the show they contributed to strikes me as wrong.  Maybe that has nothing to do with the people who run the choir, but you know what?  If I were negotiating whatever deal that was, that seems like a fair request.

Then there was the actual concert.

Call time for the singers was 3:30.  Doors didn't open for parents to sit down anywhere until after 4:00.  The concert itself started at 4:30.  The seats were uncomfortable and the people behind me kept talking (which makes me crazy), but I figured what difference did it make?  I was there to hear children sing.  I love to hear children sing.  Concert-wise, this was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Everyone there was excited to hear their children sing and were willing to pay money to do it.  This kind of event was primed for success.

I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to run an operation like a children's concert at that scale.  I'm sure it's hard.  But I do know what it's like to program a recital and help put together a concert of children with parents in the audience.  I know what the needs are of people both onstage and in front of it, and this concert did a disservice to both.

A general note about programming: It must be interesting.  We are an easy audience to please when you are using our own children as the performers, but sitting through watching other people's children requires they be entertaining.  They can be adorable, or funny, or brilliant, but they have to make some stab at being interesting.  (That, or they must be on for a blissfully short amount of time.)  There was so little variety in the songs on this program almost nothing stands out.  On paper it looked like it had potential with pieces from different eras and origins, but in reality it all bled together.  The first half of the concert I kept nodding off, and that was during the advanced singers.  Aden's group did four songs, one of which I liked better than the others, and the last one was slightly different and had clapping and interesting rhythm to it.  Mona's group did three songs, the last of which was interesting.

The worst part, though, was they put several groups of children on at once and made whoever wasn't singing sit on the risers, which means most kids sat on stage more than they sang.  And considering the youngest kids were all in the second half the show (Mona didn't appear until 6:45) it was a particularly bad idea to have them sit there because by then they were exhausted and hungry.  They were rubbing their eyes and fidgeting and I didn't blame them one bit.  They did amazingly well, considering, but it was a bad plan.  A whole stage full of kids, and they started out with the littlest kids on the far left singing their three or four songs drowned out by the piano, and then they sat and a dozen or so kids in a girls' choir sang three or four songs quietly, then they sat down and a different dozen or so girls sang their songs, then they sat down and the ten kids in the boys' choir sang their songs, and the whole group never sang together.

What should have happened at this concert both in the interest of time and effect, was to combine the choirs.  Separating out the children into smaller groups based on their rehearsal locations (Mona is in the Girls Choir East, and there is also a Girls Choir West) exposes their inadequacies and makes them harder to hear.  Most of it was unintelligible and far too quiet.  It's a wasted opportunity not to have all the children sing the same songs together, because there is glory in numbers.  When they did combine everyone in all the choirs for the last two numbers it was marvelous.  It was as if someone flipped a switch and they could be heard and understood and their enthusiasm noticeably increased.  More of the programming should have taken advantage of having so many singers available in one place.  Yes, have some soloists, yes, have the little kids stand front and center for a cute song or two of their own, but when one little group does something too similar to the next group and the next it just makes you start to resent any kid who isn't yours and that's a shame.

I've never left a kids' concert where so many parents looked so happy to simply get out of there.  Everyone seemed a bit dazed, and I know I hadn't expected the concert to run over all my evening plans for dinner and homework and baths.

Totally not related to anything the choir could help but still annoying was that there was a giant screen on either side of the stage for showing close-ups of some of the kids, but it was all on a short delay.  Which means anytime the conductor's arms were in the shot they were out of sync with what was happening on stage, and as someone trained to observe conductors that made me twitchy.

I'm done complaining now.  I needed to get that out of my system.

A moment of great praise should be allotted to my husband, though.  He met us after the concert parked right in front of the building with pizza and lasagna.  Because he loves us and is amazing and started to get alarmed at how long the concert seemed to be going and realized everyone would be starving and tired when it was all over.  So he made us feel happy and cared for and I love that man.  Seriously, you have no idea how much I love that man.

Next post, assuming I find a moment to write again soon, will move on from my rant about my kids being exploited for artistic labor to a heartwarming account of my annual sweatshop where I make my children produce holiday cards for me without compensation.  Because I'm consistent like that.


  1. Wow...that does sound terrible, as someone who would have been hangry herself in the audience...and then to pay for all that too? Ugh.

  2. Poor excution, and planning on producers' part. I know you say not to fault them, and I agree. Nonetheless, this should have been better organized, especially for little kids, who were involved. :-/

  3. Nothing makes me crazier than bad planning that involves children--especially multi-age groups of children. GR. You're right, it's time to move to greener pastures.

    Good luck.

  4. Ok, 3 hours!! That is just ridiculous. We got out of ours in 50 minutes on Tuesday night and it involved grades K-4. We did have the best camels and sheep in the place too :) The choir group sounds a lot like swim team...lots of time for minutes of enjoyment...add in all the volunteering and money. Move on, move on!

    your last line totally cracked me up too:)

  5. Wow. That's... really, really long. Of course, I was sort of horrified about having to buy a ticket to your own kids' concert. What the heck?! And they didn't even get to watch the Nutcracker afterwards? I'm not to the point where I've experienced this sort of thing with my kids yet, but... sounds pretty ridiculous.

  6. I am SO impressed your kids could do that. My children would have gone squirrelly and embarrassed me severely. And I agree with you - bad planning - but that last line cracked me up. Hope you cracked the whip and got them done!

  7. Great post. Funny ending. All your points sound totally valid, too.