Survival Skills At a Children's Concert

FALL in the city is a pretty monochrome experience, and sometimes only a passing school bus reminds you of the season.

I was walking home one day when all of a sudden a dozen or so school buses rumbled to a stop, taking up a couple of blocks and squeezing me between several hundred children on my right and the city music hall on my left.

I was surrounded, and when still more children pealed around the corner I thought I'd better just follow the current. It was kids' day at Symphony Hall, and I was caught in the middle. I flowed with the tidal wave into the hall and grabbed a volunteer like a lifeline.

I never knew kids loved music so much, and I guess neither did the bemused ushers who waved the students inside. They seemed to treat me as a larger version of their squirrely charges and answered my nosy (but neighborly) questions. Yes, the hall is full: more than 2,500 potential music lovers in attendance.

I peeked in, and they weren't kidding. Pigtails and hi-tops packed the place. And the ushers insisted that the students would remain seated for the entire hour of the concert.

Incredulous, I sidled up to someone my size, who turned out to be a principal. I asked when the hall would reach total anarchy, and she responded sternly, eager to dispel common myths about children and classical music. ``Look,'' she said with triumph. ``They are all seated; they just have louder voices. Wait until the music starts.''

On cue, the lights dimmed and delighted squeals erupted from the balcony. Then all was quiet as the conductor looked out over a sea of hair tufts protruding over the tops of the seats and began to play.

Not missing a beat, he led them through varied productions with slides and explanation. Even a ballerina appeared on stage to dance to Swan Lake. Once, a picture of a slightly disheveled-looking Mussorgsky brought impromptu giggles, and enthusiastic clapping sometimes intruded on various slow-moving pieces.

But for the most part, the children stayed quiet while facing front, and I reevaluated my earlier disbelief. Didn't I remember going to the symphony as a child and really enjoying Mahler? I even went to an opera once in high school.

LATER, conversations with children confirmed my new hypothesis: They did like classical music. One girl confessed shyly that the ballerina was best, and that it was funny the way the conductor moved his hands. Another boy said this was his third year coming.

So culture was not lost on the world after all. Pleased, I meandered toward the exit. But before I could reach it, a cadre of crew cuts barreled past me out the door.

One voice yelped with a cheer that clearly spoke for them all: ``I survived!''

That sounded more like it. On second thought, I remember falling asleep in that opera myself.

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