My daughter has a powerful voice. She can belt out and hold a note for so long, and put so much volume and power into it, I wonder if she's doing diaphragm exercises behind my back.
Then I remember she's 1.
I have to remind myself that she just doesn't know how to talk yet. She is expressing frustration or excitement or desire for something I can't figure out, testing the limits of her vocal cords, demanding attention, digging the sound of her own voice.
It does make doing things with her tricky. An outburst can happen at any moment, and it's hard to predict when she'll stop, even with mom-style interruption, deflection, distraction, pointed engagement, etc.
I avoid going places that her unexpected vocalizations might be overly disturbing, so I'd never contemplated taking her to a concert hall—until I saw a listing for Seattle Symphony's Tiny Tots concerts, which have existed for nearly 20 years, according to Laura Reynolds, vice president of education and community engagement for the symphony.
These concerts happen in the morning—prime in-between-naps time. The kids are all in the same unruly age group, the parents have the kids in common (not to mention getting a chance to feel a bit more like adults for an hour or so), and both are treated to a short respite from their routines as well as a participatory musical experience. At a preconcert reception, kids can "meet" the instruments that will be played, do craft activities tailored to each concert's theme, and make rhythmic sounds in a percussion play area.
There are five Tiny Tots programs over the 2018–19 season, the first four introducing the symphony's different families of instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion), the last one bringing them all together in a mini-orchestra. Each concert's repertoire has an anchor piece. For October's kickoff with the strings, it's "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and its variations. "Right now, we're really looking at all of the different songs that you can sing using that melody," Reynolds says, "whether it's 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' or 'The ABCs.'"
The woodwinds-driven program in December is anchored by selections from Tchaikovsky's indelible classic The Nutcracker, along with select seasonal favorites—"Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," and the like.
Keeping the attention of audience members who literally have no attention span can't be easy, but Reynolds explains: "Looking at the different kinds of learning modalities—whether that's the movement, or the singing, or looking at something visually that's happening on stage, whether that's an image or somebody dancing or the musicians themselves—all of those different ways are strategies we use to keep the attention of the audience."
Kids love repetition, and that's a big part of it too, sewn into the fabric of the Tiny Tots experience. Certain musical themes are repeated in each concert, and the structure is the same from start to finish, even as the content and instruments vary.
Reynolds stresses that, because these programs are for their youngest listeners, it's okay to make noise, move around, or take a bathroom break. "The space is really designed for families, so you can feel as comfortable as possible having this experience. That means you have more freedom to just be yourself and do what you need to do during the concert, rather than feeling like you're stuck to your chair and can't move."