One of the coolest things about living in New York is all the wonderful venues and events going on for youth and families all the time. Symphony Space in the Upper West Side is one of the great continual fountains of such events. Thus far, because of my interest in children's film, I've only attended the New York International Children's Film Festival (this year's tickets just went on sale a few days ago). But this Saturday I'm excited to go to a performance by Milkshake as part of Symphony Space's Just Kidding live event series. I've been vaguely aware of the series for quite a while but have never found out much about it or, obviously, attended, so it's exciting to not only see Milkshake again but tap into one of the best children's concert series in the city.
Of course, calling it a "concert series" is a little myopic, as I found out yesterday when I got to chat with Darren Critz, the performing arts director who curates the entire series. (He's the one on the left, I believe.)
Darren's a really affable guy--and incredibly knowledgeable about children's music, as I found out. He has two main programming dicta that reflect this: the first is that any performers have to be quality musicians (or dancers or thespians), and on top of that quality live performers--they have to not only sound good on their CD but engage kids at the back of a 750-seat hall. His second rule of thumb is that he wants as broad a range of music as possible, from the country sounds of Farmer Jason to pop and rock acts like Milkshake, Recess Monkey, and the Sugar Free Allstars, to, this season, international and native music such as from folk artist Suni Paz, the Thunderbird Dancers (who present an array of Native American dances), and, all the way from Cuba for the first time since 2002, los Munequitos de Matanzas (who will be giving shows for both families and adults sans kids). This array is already striking, and Darren envisions getting more artists from outside the U.S.--as well as just from outside the city--coming in and presenting their work.
Since college I've striven to be eclectic in my musical choices, so I appreciate being able to expose my daughters to such a broad spectrum of live performers this early in their lives. Tweens, it seems, have started to solidify in the type of music they like, and they're hesitant to try anything new. And parents are even worse. So Darren sees the Just Kidding series as an opportunity to expand parents' musical worlds as well as kids'. Parents are more likely to take children to a concert of music that they wouldn't normally listen to just to expose the kids to it--and the upshot is that the parents are exposed as well. One of the best things about the entire series, in fact, is watching parents get into shows and rock out with their children.
That brings me to what I believe is one of the most important purposes of live events--be they music, dance, theater, galleries, picnics, or anything else--they allow for greater interaction between parent and child than more passive (socially constrained) experiences like watching a movie. I wrote about the value of interaction between parents and children in one of my first posts on this blog (it's point #4); suffice it to say here that the type of talent lined up for Just Kidding is exactly what you would want for this type of interaction. And groups like Milkshake are great, as we discovered with our infant last year, because they pack so much more into a performance than just the music. There's such a strong visual component, as Darren pointed out, that they can entertain very, very young children (as well as adults).
Here are some other really cool things I learned about Just Kidding:
* In addition to pushing international performers, future series (which run from October through April generally) will have a stronger component of theater and dance. I'm really pleased about that.
* If you miss a performance or don't live in the city, chances are it will have been recorded and you can catch it online at Symphony Space Live. Note, that's for grown-ups' performances as well as kids', and included discussions and presentations as well as performances.
* Also, there's a lesser known book series that brings literature into the mix. These presentations aren't as frequent as those with musicians, due to publishing dates, author availability, and general book tour issues, but they're definitely worth checking out. (These are generally for 7-11 year-old readers, btw--chapter books and easy novels rather than picture books.) The next one is with Laurie Halse Anderson on March 20, with Lincoln Peirce on April 10. Authors do various things, but they include readings, discussions of their works, and even writing workshops with the kids. There are eight to ten of these a year (and, again, there are adult authors as well).
So there's definitely a lot going on--congratulations to Darren and everyone at Symphony Space for keeping such an outstanding series going for roughly a decade now. As far as this Saturday goes, I'm excited to see Milkshake again; we often listen to their music during breakfast to get my seven-year-old moving in the mornings, and I'm excited that she's excited to see them in person now that she can sing along. That kind of reaction from the kids is what these live events are all about.