Thursday, May 24, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Socially speaking, the symphony delivers a crescendo

Usually children learn from their parents. Sometimes, though, it’s the other way around.

Early in life, my younger son chose a path to music. He took flute lessons, eventually from a musician with the Toledo Symphony.

His older brother took percussion lessons from the symphony’s timpanist. My wife or I took them to their lessons.

About six years ago, when the boys had moved away to college and my wife was out of town, I was home alone. I saw that the symphony would be performing The Planets by Gustav Holst.

I had heard The Planets performed by one of the youth symphonies in which my sons participated. The only reason I know who wrote the suite was that I just did a Google search. I label myself musically challenged.

So I went to the Peristyle, got a ticket, and took my seat. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know, but I knew a couple of the musicians on stage, so I felt I was not really alone.

The concert was fine. The best part, though, came afterward. I went to a Perrysburg restaurant for a post-symphony beverage.

I saw a couple who had been sitting nearby at the concert. I struck up a conversation. We soon became friends.

At concert after concert, I’ve come across people I know through church, work, historical re-enacting, and my sons’ school and music activities. The social aspect has multiplied.

After each concert, I go backstage to see the musicians who helped my sons. We catch up on family news.

Sometimes I talk about the concert. My comment usually is something like: “You guys rocked.” I could never review a concert.

But I know someone who can and does: The Blade’s Sally Vallongo. In her review of last month’s symphony performance of Carmina Burana, she made a point that I’ve noticed is sadly true: “The Toledo Museum of Art’s stately hall was abuzz with a far larger and more age-diverse crowd. (The couple sitting behind me nattered on about tweets and Facebook before the music started. Please come back.)”

Amen to that. Often there are plenty of empty seats at the Peristyle. No offense meant, fellow concertgoers, but the hair of those in the audience is white, silver, or gray instead of black, blond, or red — naturally speaking. I am part of the former crowd.

Perhaps the answer to attracting younger people — and enticing them to make concertgoing a habit — lies with the musicians. The Toledo Symphony has some members who are — to reach back to a term from when I was the same age as those tweeters — cool.

Take the chamber music concerts at the Toledo Club. At the concerts I’ve attended, almost always before the performance one of the musicians describes the upcoming piece and what the audience can expect.

The musicians often season their descriptions with humor. If potential young concertgoers could know that the performances, and their performers, aren’t boring or stuffy, maybe more of them would attend.

But it would be nice if even more older folks would fill the Peristyle’s seats. A retired friend said he enjoys classical music but has little desire to attend a concert.

His reasoning: Why take the time and trouble to dress in nice clothes, drive into the city, and sit in a confined space for a couple of hours to hear the symphony? He’d rather lounge at home, grab a snack in his kitchen, and listen to just as high a quality of sound on a radio broadcast.

It’s because of this attitude among people such as my friend that there is growing concern in the music field.

At my younger son’s university commencement two years ago, the head of the school of music told the graduates that the issue they face is how to attract people to live performances.

Before the Academy Awards last month, there was a story on a TV news show in which a film expert made a good point. He talked about seeing an epic movie such as Lawrence of Arabia on a big screen in a darkened theater, surrounded by people who are there for the same reason you are.

Compare that experience, he said, with watching the classic film on a smart phone while riding a subway. The two are not the same. The former is much more rewarding.

I still don’t know Carmina Burana from Carmen Miranda, but I’d rather see and hear the symphony in person. I’m in harmony with the social aspect.

Dennis Bova is a copy editor for The Blade’s Pages of Opinion.

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