Carnegie Hall’s Family Concerts provide an opportunity for audiences of all ages to experience a variety of musical genres through high quality, interactive, and educational performances. From local favorites Polygraph Lounge to members of the world renowned Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, concertgoers are led through exciting adventures through the wonderful world of music. In a recent interview, singer and storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston reflected on her 17 years of involvement with Carnegie Hall’s Family Concerts, including her many appearances as performer, narrator, and host.
The goal of Family Concerts is to immerse children in a concert experience that features some of the greatest music the world has to offer—performed by some of today’s best artists, ensembles, and orchestras—and framed in a format that taps into a child’s natural curiosity and energy. Seeing the expressions on their faces—seeing families engage with concentrated listening, singing, movement, and laughter—has its own rewards. The honor of sharing the stage with extraordinarily gifted musicians and the joy of serving as a reverse Pied Piper, if you will, remains one of the joys of my life. I don’t lead children into a mountain never to be seen again, but I serve as a guide, leading them up, down, around, over, under, and through the varying and wondrous landscapes of music.
Family Concerts are thoughtfully crafted to incorporate a great deal more audience engagement and participation. The “fourth wall”—that conceptual barrier between performer and audience—is removed. We don’t own the music; we share the music and our love for it. The quality of the music and the virtuoso talent of the musicians are at the same high level of artistry one would experience in a concert for adults. However, we incorporate listening points, music vocabulary, movement, call-and-response, singing, tapping out rhythmic patterns, imagery, and invitations for the entire audience to use hands, arms, fingers, or breath to visualize themselves playing along with the musicians onstage. We also want families to have fun! We want the experience to stimulate their creative potential and leave everyone feeling satisfied, excited, and hungry for more.
I no longer have enough fingers to count the number of parents, grandparents, or unaccompanied adults (there are always a few!) who have commented about how much they learned during a Family Concert that they hadn’t known, thought about, or understood prior to the concert. I believe these concerts provide what so many parents are looking for: a high quality experience they can enjoy with their children that also serves as a wonderful catalyst for continued conversation once the concert is over. Both children and adults hear, engage, internalize, and leave with just the right language they need for extended conversations and musical experiences. What could be better than sharing and creating a family memory of a quality musical experience in a venerable music hall?
The more high quality experiences our children have access to, the broader their vision of what is possible for themselves. When we limit children’s ability to engage creatively in live arts settings, we reduce the cultural intelligence of the society as a whole.Photos: Charlotte Blake Alston by Julien Jourdes, Family Concert by Chris Lee.