Justin Locke  

Look, Kids, Now He's De-Composing

Justin Locke
July 20, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Justin Locke spent 18 years playing with the Boston Pops, the Boston Ballet, and all the other many freelance gigs in New England. He is now an author and speaker, and in his musical memoir, "Real Men Don't Rehearse," he shares some truly outrageous and hilarious gig disaster stories. One of several excerpts appears below. "Real Men Don't Rehearse" is now in its sixth printing. You can see more at his website, www.justinlocke.com.

- Ramon Ricker

I am as eager as the next person to speak in highly idealized terms about arts education and bringing the beauty of Mozart into the life of every child. But . . . The unspoken reality is that most musicians have a certain feeling of dread about playing what are affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) referred to as “Kiddie Koncerts.”

Everyone wants the kids to have fun, and carry away with them a lasting impression that orchestras are fabulous and wonderful, but the thing is, being in the audience for a symphony concert by definition requires sitting very still and making no sound for an hour or more at a time. For children, having to sit so still for so long a time can actually be psychologically painful. In many households, it is used as a form of punishment. Everyone always has the best of intentions, but in their standard form, symphony concerts and children are not always the best combination. Like many other aspects of musical performance, if one does not respect the inherent difficulty, the whole thing can blow up in your face.

I played a lot of children’s concerts in my playing days. Some of them were very very good. But I am shocked, shocked, to have to report that others . . . were not. Part of the problem is, the typical symphony orchestra just isn’t in that line of work, and the economics of the average small orchestra orchestra concert being what they are, there is usually little or no money in the budget to do a big visually-engaging event for a concert hall filled with bussed-in school children. So out of sheer financial necessity, some of the orchestras I played in would just do a one-hour version of an adult concert, with the assistant conductor giving a little lecture on some fine musicological point. The players would always just try to get through it while ignoring the buzz of distracted noise in the crowd, and everyone would just hope that the audience was somehow, despite their general lack of interest, soaking up a cultural experience. Of course, with kids, anything can happen, and sometimes things went way beyond the worst of our expectations.

There was one time we were going to do a kiddie concert at the Boston Ballet. We were in the Wang Center, and so we had 5,000 high school kids in the seats. For every hundred kids there was maybe one teacher on guard duty—whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. It was during the school day, so attendance was mandatory for everyone, and for this audience we were going to perform the entire Sleeping Beauty ballet. Three hours. No lecture. No changes from the regular show. Here goes.

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