The first time you try something, you are probably not going to be very good at it. And if you are good at it, you will not be as good at it as the twentieth time you do it. Even if you have previously gotten good at all of the skills that you will need to do this thing, you cannot hope to be the best you will ever be at it on the very first try. Luckily, by the time we are adults, we have hopefully built up enough of those miscellaneous skills that we can at least be less than terrible at most things that we try out. Kids, on the other hand, are still desperately trying to do things that they have no background in whatsoever, and for which they possess absolutely none of the required skills.
Parents get that. We know that our kids are not going to hit a home run the first time they step up to the plate, and we know that the middle school concert at which our child has an important oboe solo is probably going to sit closer to “nails on a chalkboard” than to “a major symphony orchestra” on the scale of tolerable sounds. But then why is there such a cultural difference between how we view the two events?
I have written about music and sports before, and was rightly corrected that music does have almost as much importance in our cultural as sporting events, if you count “American Idol” as music. But since they don’t teach “American Idol” in middle school, I will discount that for the moment. Probably the closest comparison I can make between popular music and tweenage musical events is saying that a 6th grade chorus concert may be doing some Glee-style numbers and pop music arranged for two-part chorus. I recall singing “The Greatest Love of All” at a chorus concert back in the day, so popular cultural music is certainly present alongside popular sporting events in the halls of our schools.
But think about how Little League games and Pee Wee soccer are depicted on television shows, movies, and commercials. Parents cheering their kids on from the sidelines, kids not catching or hitting anything but being encouraged all the same, and a “win or lose, you’re still a winner” attitude that says “We support what you’re doing.” It’s great, actually. I have no complaints with our cultural attitudes on pre-high school sports. Only now take a moment to think of all the times you’ve seen a pre-high school concert on TV or in the movies. Parents groaning, trying to get out of going, sneaking out early, and gritting their teeth to try and make it through so they can smile a weak smile at the end and halfheartedly say “Heh heh, good job, son…”
And it’s not just a weird media distortion of reality in this case (although they do that very well). I remember bringing notes home and hearing lectures from music teachers, telling us to make sure our parents did not try to sneak out after our segment of the concert. They often combine band, orchestra, and choral concerts, and there was a real problem with parents leaving after their kid was done and having an almost empty auditorium for whoever went third. Can you imagine if half the crowd just disappeared after the first half of the soccer game, because other kids were going to play now and their kids were on the bench?
So what is it about concerts that make us cringe? Is it because we have to just sit there and listen? If we could yell out “Great try, Timmy! You’ll hit that B flat next time!” would we feel differently about it? Is it because we feel more invested in the sports, since we can go out and throw a ball back and forth with our kids, but when you start learning music, you learn it alone? Are we intimidated by non-American Idol music in a way that we are not intimidated by softball? I’m not sure what the reason is, and I know that not every parent hates concerts, just like I know that many parents would rather be anywhere else but another pee wee hockey game. But the cultural discrimination pervades. And the only way to really change culture is for all of us to make a different decision. Talk about your kids’ concerts as if you were looking forward to them. Tell people how great your kid sang. Brag about the dang oboe solo. If we change our own ways of thinking, culture will eventually catch up.