Sunday, November 14, 2004

Give It Up For The "Nerds"

Last night, we went to the season-opening performance of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. We managed to find a cheap ticket deal while cruising the "Portland Events" calendar online. Our "cheap tickets" were front-row center; which, if you’ve ever attended an event at an "intimate" venue, you know are a little awkward. You’re basically almost eye-level with a platoon of black-shod feet, and you’re peeking under pianos and between chair legs to take advantage of your "close-up and personal" view of the orchestra. I started out griping about the seats, but as the concert progressed, I changed my tune. No heads in front of us to lean around, and all the foot room we wanted. And I really enjoyed being so close to the young musicians.

Those kids are truly amazing. At one point, my husband leaned over and asked me, "How many combined hours of lessons and practice do you suppose we’re looking at here?" The conductor and music director, Mei-Ann Chen, partially answered this question when she explained that the young piano soloists had basically "given up their summer" practicing their piece—Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in D Minor for 2 Pianos and Orchestra. I was not familiar with the composer or his music, and usually I don’t care for "modern" orchestral music. But the piece was pleasant in places, dramatic in others, and, it seemed to me, very complicated for two teen-aged pianists performing with no sheet music in front of them. To say I was impressed is an understatement. And after intermission, the two medal-winning soloists picked up their other instruments—violin and cello—and joined the rest of the orchestra for the second half of the concert. Did I say "impressed?" How about "gob-smacked?"

Of course, the evening’s entertainment got me to thinking…where were the media? Why were there not press and photographers and TV and radio personalities hovering around, focusing on the talents and dedication of kids like this? Why are they camped outside places like a grade school in the inner city, where police are taking heat for "tazering" a six-year-old who was holding them at bay in the principal’s office with a shard of broken glass from a broken pictureframe? If you think about it, this showcase of outstanding youth, which barely filled the seats of a small auditorium, spoke volumes about our society in America—both the good and the bad things about it.

That there are enough such kids to even populate an orchestra is a good thing. But, one would have had to be blind not to notice that at least two out of three of the young musicians were of Asian extraction. Though this says good things about Asian-American culture, what does it say about the rest of us? A hundred years ago in this country, music was considered an integral part of a "classical education." Rudimentary mastery of an instrument like piano or violin—or even accordion!—was as much a part of growing up as going to school (uphill both ways in the snow) and sandlot baseball games. Learning to play required an investment of discipline and dedication that we don’t require of our kids today. OR of ourselves. Are they too busy? Are we? Doing what, exactly?

I have to admit, my parents dropped the ball on this one. Musical instruments and/or lessons were considered "luxuries" that we couldn’t afford. Fifty years ago, our parents were already becoming so brainwashed by our consumer culture that the importance of exposure to the arts was being steadily eclipsed from their everyday lives. Our society has filled that void with…what? A pop music culture that has throngs of adolescents drooling over icons like Brittney Spears and Eminem? You know, I’m sure there are plenty of kids with real talent out there, playing to empty seats in concert halls. But the media would have you believe that what there is, what is all-important to today’s teens, are those semi-talented children making more money than God, trotting around onstage half-naked, performing acts that showcase an almost pedophiliac sexual suggestiveness. Or violence that should have put them behind bars or in padded rooms long ago.

So, let’s hear it for the "classical music nerds." The ones in the slightly ill-fitting formal wear, sporting "violin hickeys" just under their jaws on the left sides of their necks. They started out life like any other kids. But they’ll have a foundation of education, discipline, manners, and international experience upon which to build the rest of their lives. Wouldn’t we all like to give our children these toolsin today’s world?


  1. Do you mind if I say Amen?

  2. Yes, it's pretty amazing.  Many of us as parents don't have nearly the discipline that many of our Asian counterparts do.  

  3. You are so lucky.  Joe would have to be comatose to allow me to drag him to such a performance.  

  4. Not only has the music program been reduced to nearly nothing in the public schools...but so have arts and crafts.  My 11 year old son actually draws during class time and gets in trouble but he can't get it out of his system since there is no art class available in middle and elementary school...they integrate it with the other classwork (y'know like drawing a map of the U.S. compares to drawing a boy en-flight on a skateboard)  He has never touched real clay in school nor carved anything (not even soap) there.  They do (thankfully) offer in depth art and music classes in the High School. However, kids need to develop a taste for the arts in the lower grades to have enough interest in it to continue on into High School.  I manage to keep art supplies on hand here at home to feed his obsession (as I did his older siblings) but I am not qualified to teach him beyond the basics.  When I think back to how I loved to go to Art and Music Class in school I am really disappointed that my children are not having those kind of experiences.

    As far as the lack of news goes...It seems that newspapers and other media only seem to be interested in kids who are misbehaving...not the many many more who are doing the right and the good things.

  5. Unfortunately in the media, if it's not bad news, it's not news at all.  And the arts are replaced in favor of sports.  It's sadly happening from elementary schools to colleges.  Five stars to you guys for going and supporting them!  ~Sie

  6. I admire anyone who has the motivation and the determination to play an instrument.  I love listening to bands.  I also wish that the media would focus on the good stuff happening too.  That's not asking too much, is it?  People would love to hear something good for a change.

  7. If I had kids, you bet. I played the piano and the oboe. The oboe was a stock instrument of the music department at school and the piano I went across the street to play at the Methodist church. Of course, without a parent to require me to be disciplined I gave up both after a couple of years. I thought being in the flag corp and playing field hockey was cooler.

    What I hate is the fact that all we do hear about from the media is the crap. Everything is so fricken sensationalized. Why isn't the good stuff considered news worthy? Shoot, they were doing sound blips for the local news here for Schwartzenegger's trip to Japan like it was a movie premier. Absolutely ridiculous!

    Ummm....great entry! :-) ---Robbie

  8. What a lovely entry.....I was lucky enogh to get both piano and flute lessons.  You've made me feel privledge with your thoughts.

  9. Yes, I am also sad that music is no longer considered a necessary part of education.  I don't know whose priorities are being pressed on our children when it comes to education, but they certainly aren't mine. ::sigh::