As the first rock band launched into its number, I nudged my daughter, who plays guitar: ‘‘That could be you in a few years!’’ She cringed, and told me to be quiet, pretending embarrassment. But I could see a flash of excitement in her eyes.
Unexpectedly, I found myself crying when a choir sang Tenterfield Saddler, a song that always makes me think of my dad. Then I teared up again when the strings played Pachelbel’s canon. A musical cliche, but it sounded so sweet. And I thought, these children don’t know it’s a cliche, and they don’t care. They’re just enjoying being up there, making music.
Among all those acts, there were a few flashes of brilliance, a great deal of playing that was rough but spirited, and a few performances that could only be described as discordant noise. And at three hours, my initial enthusiasm for the concert was tested. But still, I found it deeply affecting.
I sat through many similar performances as a child. My brother played viola in various youth orchestras, and I loved going along to watch him. As with my son’s school concert, they weren’t always in tune. There were kids who were handed the French horn simply because no one else put their hand up to play it, and others who’d just started on the violin, yet were already able to fully realise that instrument’s ear-piercing potential. I can still summon the particular sound that a group of high school students make when they murder Eye of the Tiger with trombones and trumpets.
But to my young, untrained ears, it was magical. Kids like me were getting up on stage, participating in a musical performance. And years later, having listened to many professional orchestras, the thrill that I got from watching my brother play with those awkward, novice teens has never been matched.
I have a friend whose son attends an expensive private school, and he tells me that their concert nights are a very different proposition. You have to audition to get into their orchestra, and the school offers scholarships to especially talented kids, populating their orchestras with outstanding talent. Predictably, their concert nights are genuinely impressive. And always in tune.
But I couldn’t help wondering, would I trade that for the sometimes inept concert at my son’s overcrowded public school? Yes, it was overlong, and some of the playing was discordant. But everyone got a go. The good, the bad and the terrible, with dedicated teachers, encouraging them along.
Whether they attend a fancy private school or an ordinary public one, most of our child musicians will never again play their instrument in public after they graduate, and almost certainly not on a stage with an audience watching. Regardless of their talent, or even their competence, isn’t it worth giving those kids a chance to get up and make music for the sheer joy of it? One last time, before they become too afraid of looking silly.