This week the Ulster Orchestra announced a decision to grant free entry to under 16’s to their season concerts. This decision was shared on social-media site Facebook alongside a post describing one parent’s experience of taking her child to performances: That she’d had complaints her little girl was distracting other audience members. 
Whilst organisations such as the Ulster Orchestra emphasise that children are welcome, and classical music works to build a younger audience, parents are sometimes put off by the worry that their baby or child will spoil a concert for others. And parents aren’t the only people who feel uncomfortable. Perceptions around classical music can be that it is performed in a stuffy environment; that you have to be the right sort of person to enjoy it. 
Founder of ABC Baby Concerts, Viola Player and Creative Music Leader, Neil Valentine is working to disprove these ideas, and to engage people of all ages in concert-going. He talks to MWC about his work. 
Hello? A concert? Today? No sorry, I can’t go to a concert. No way. Why? Well, er, you know, it’s just not for me. I wouldn’t know which one to go to or what to do, and besides, I don’t fit in. No I don’t. It’s the silence you see, and the clapping or not clapping. I feel embarrassed when I want to clap but there’s silence. And it’s the serious faces and fancy clothes. Plus I wouldn’t know what to wear, and anyway all my clothes smell vaguely of baby puke, or worse. No, sorry, another time maybe. 
People wonder whether classical music is dying. It isn’t. But what is dying are the perceptions that going to a concert is purely a middle/upper class thing to do, with rules you must abide by. This is happening because we are gradually understanding what we knew as babies and small children. We are remembering that the music doesn’t care how you smell, or whether you clap or not. The music doesn’t mind if you laugh or cry. The music will just be there, hoping that someone, however old or young will be there too, open and willing to hear and perhaps to listen. 
Classical music is about connection, and those connections are best served live. Yes talking on the phone is good, but to really understand someone we need to see them face to face, look them in the eye, smile and give them a big hug. That is what we are hoping to achieve with ABC Baby Concerts. We want you and your baby/toddler to come and see us face to face. The music will look you in the eye, smile and give you a great big acoustic hug. 
Live music can envelop you. It can surround you the way a recording cannot. Just watch the audience at an ABC Baby Concert, where Classical Music is played to the highest standard for an audience of 50 adults and 70 under 3s. 
The music starts, and then………focus. what is that sound? it’s coming from over there. I can hear it. I can feel it, and it’s AMAZING. That is what the faces tell us. And what do these audiences of the future have to teach us? They teach us how to listen. With focus and energy. Responding with their eyes and faces and bodies. They show us it’s ok to be transfixed and absorbed or so excited you just have to move. That it is ok to lose your focus for a bit and enjoy staring at the ceiling only to hear a new piece and …..WOAH. Back to the music. 
It is time we remembered that once music was just music. And people were just people. That a concert was a place where music and people could just be together, however that was. Concert etiquette is a learnt behaviour. There are plenty of stories of how, at a Beethoven Symphony recital the audience was so excited in the finale that they jumped on chairs and shouted and clapped their approval during the performance! Classical music can do that to you. If you let it. 
If you’re a baby, that could mean having your nappy changed or throwing a tantrum to the sounds of Brahms, if you’re a toddler perhaps its dancing to Chopin or colouring a picture of a ‘cello to some Bach. If you’re a parent, perhaps it means just sitting cuddling your kids to Schubert. Whatever you are, whatever the music is, a concert is a place where you can go and spend some time with some music. And when that music is played by professionals who understand that sometimes you just have to leave and yes it was necessary to feed him 3 noisy rice crackers in a row, then you can just be too. Be whatever you need to be.” 
To find out more about this new concert series in the South of England, please visit: 
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