A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bach To Baby

I'm sure I've said before on this blog that one of the things I like best about living in London is being able to take my children to so many concerts and musical events designed especially with them in mind. Most recently, I took my 5 year old son to the Barbican to see the New York Philharmonic and Giants Are Small play Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky in a quite brilliantly theatrical concert (witness his excitement in the below pre-concert photograph). Over the last few years I've also taken him to see a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, various concerts across the Southbank Centre, several Daylight Music shows at Union Chapel, child-friendly concerts at Kings Place and two outdoor music festivals (End Of The Road 2012 and WOMAD 2013).

Clearly, my 8 month old daughter has a little bit of catching up to do with her brother on this front. We took her to her first concert in February - one of the 'For Crying Out Loud' shows for babies at Wigmore Hall and earlier today we took her to her second concert - one of the excellent Bach To Baby shows at St. John of Jerusalem church in Hackney.

Bach To Baby promises "outstanding musicians, exhilarating performances and inspiring locations across London and the South East" and on the basis of today's show all pledges were comfortably met. It is the idea of pianist (and mum) Miaomiao Yu who wanted to be able to expose her own children to the type of concert she would enjoy. I totally understand this - if I'm honest the main reason I've taken Dhruv and Fiza to all of the wonderful places mentioned above is that I love experiencing concerts in these venues myself and get a special, additional thrill from experiencing them with my children - seriously, I remember practically being in tears when I took Dhruv to Union Chapel for the first time back in 2011. And also when we first went to the Royal Albert Hall for the CBeebies Prom last year. And also when we went to the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre for a children's Impropera show. I could go on...

I read a story in the press recently where musician Nicola Benedetti argued young children should be exposed to classical music whether they like it or not. I can understand the point she was trying to convey but I'm not sure I agree with how she worded aspects of her argument. Doing it in a positive, relaxed, non-confrontational way is quite important I think (as is being able to accept any initial disinterest). James Rhodes covers this quite well in this piece and makes some other good points (especially on debunking the lazy assumption that listening to classical music automatically makes a person/child 'more intelligent'). 

I would definitely agree however that showing children that music can be a source of huge enjoyment from an early age is a good thing. What I've enjoyed doing with my son is playing him different pieces/genres of music and letting him work out for himself if he likes it/what he thinks of it/how he would describe it (and then seeing what he asks to listen to going forward). I think the different sensory/shared/social experiences of a live music performance must contain some positives at a very basic level for babies/children (gaining a greater awareness of sounds and instruments, getting more experience of concentrating on something not necessarily visual and simply spending time in a different environment away from the familiar distractions of home for example). 

Anyway, back to Bach To Baby - today's concert featured Miaomiao on piano and Katie Stillman on violin playing an all Mozart programme. It may have understandably featured Mozart's junior crowd-pleaser of 12 variations on "Ah vous dirai-je Mamam" (more commonly known as 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star') but there was no sense of dumbing down - the music ran for over an hour, included context and background on each piece in a way both adults and children could appreciate and featured a full Violin Concerto (Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219).

To begin with Fiza sat with her mum on the carpet in between the rows of pews at the front of St John Of Jerusalem and clapped her approval throughout the early stages, clearly interested by what was happening in front of her (and by the other babies surrounding her). Later, I held her and she showed her appreciation of Mozart's Violin Sonata No. 17 in C major, K 296 by dropping pieces of wet, half-eaten raspberry rice cakes down my shirt and wiping her sticky fingers over my face. Lovely.

The excitement all got a bit too much for her towards the end and she fell asleep for the last 15 minutes (missing sadly the final stages where the children are encouraged to gather around the piano to hear their favourite nursery rhymes).

I think it's clear that the quality of the overall Bach To Baby experience was reflected in its popularity - I think today's concert was attended by over 40 Mums (and a couple of Dads). The venue was beautiful also - a spacious, well maintained Victorian church. There are currently Bach To Baby concerts programmed up to July - if you have small children I'd recommend trying to get to one. I'm already trying to single out some dates in June...

More details can be found here and photographs from today's concert are available to view here.

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