Kyung Wha Chung: Keep kids in childrens’ concerts

Kyung Wha Chung: Keep kids in childrens’ concerts


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2014

The violinist has published a curious, PR-spun response to the furore aroused by her rebuke to a child who coughed in her concert. She admits to being astonished at the international outcry caused by her remarks and makes no apology.

After almost two minutes, as I was about to resume playing, my focus was stolen by a restless, coughing young child, directly in my line of vision. That this cough, and my surprised reaction, should go on to gather global headlines, is something of a revelation, and it has raised a number of interesting issues on conduct in a concert hall.

She goes on to demand a lower age limit for concert, saying that the very young should be confined to kiddies shows.

I have always welcomed children to my concerts, and indeed think it is a vital part of music education that they experience and discover the joys of live performance. However, I think it is also important that the very youngest children are taken to appropriate events, where they can feel comfortable to move, whisper and react animatedly. The concept of “children’s concerts”, which foster much more relaxed environments in which small children are actively encouraged to engage with music on a physical level, is the perfect example of this. It should never become an ordeal for the child to sit attentively – many adults struggle to manage this themselves!

So should adults be tested for fidgets before they are admitted to the concert hall?

Kyung Wha’s attempt at damage limitation leaves a bad taste.

kyung wha chung rfh


  • wundertier says:

    Why is this bad taste? She is perfectly right, some / many / most children do struggle at a certain age to sit still and to really enjoy a concert, at least in a “classical” formate (and she is quite right about adults, too). It used to be a matter of parental discretion to decide if and when to bring one´s child to a concert – taking into account both important questions: a) if the child actually wants it and really enjoys sitting still for at least one and a half hour and b) if this might disturb other people. Nowadays, there seems to be a hypocritical spirit which claims it is perfectly ok to take both the performing artists and the rest of the audience as hostages of such a decision. This is bad taste, and it is also a sign of bad education (note: not of the child – of the parents). Being the father of three small children, I know what I am talking about.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    She is completely right. Why are there children’s concerts anyway? Obviously, because kids generally have a limited attention span and perhaps do not yet appreciate a Bruckner symphony. There is pre-school just like there is school to parallel childhood development.

  • kea says:

    Kyung-Wha Chung’s statement makes perfect sense. Another sensible statement in this slightly odd discussion (which could be likened to a tempest in a teapot) is this article by the Daily Telegraph’s critic:

  • Darren says:

    She is right!!!

  • David Hutchings says:

    Whatabout the logical compromise: Taking children to concerts but asking parents to take a reasonable level of responsibility for ensuring their children know they are expected to be on their absolute best behaviour; in other words ‘this concert is a special treat so you have to be really good; you can’t fidget, talk or make noise until after the end of the music when the clapping starts’. Might sound a bit draconian, but it worked on me and plenty of other kids who behave impecably at concerts I’ve been to. Banning kids from concerts would leave the next generation with a draught of artists. Andris Nelsons’ love of Wagner was inspired when he was taken to see Tannhauser AGE 5!!!

    Now I know Wagner at the age of 5 is extreme, (Wagner at any age can feel extreme), but if a child is able to behave well, why on earth should they be precluded from having their first early experiences of great music?

    I wonder how old Kyung Wha Chung was when she first attended concerts.

    • Nick says:

      No, I do not think it is draconian. It is eminently sensible. But in an age when parents in most households both have jobs, how do you ensure they will find the time to brief a child thoroughly?

      I have to add my name to those who basically agree with Ms. Chung’s comments. Having managed an orchestra and later been a promoter of concerts and recitals, I have seen many younger children at events where it has been perfectly clear they had little interest in the music and were more than mystified by the surroundings. In such circumstances, it was all but inevitable they would not settle down despite endless parental encouragement.

      I have also seen young children be entranced at concerts, totally absorbed by the performance. And this is what makes any regulations re their attendance so difficult to draft. Those who programme concerts specifically for young children generally accept their attention spans are relatively short. So the music and programme lengths are chosen with that in mind. Interaction with the stage, as implied by Ms. Chung, adds significantly to their interest. A full recital/concert of longer works, though, is far more problematic for most.

      I fully accept that the younger a child is exposed to music the greater the chance they will become part of the audiences of the future. On the other hand, is it acceptable that a very small number of youngsters be given an opportunity which will usually end in disturbing the attention and enjoyment of others in a large concert hall?

  • Anon says:

    Well, the good part of this is that’s nice to see a backlash against the reverance with which youth is held in classical music. Baby conductors, special prices for young concert-goers, marketing incentives all aimed at attracting young audiences. It gets really old. Middle-aged concert goers start feeling discriminated against, marginalized. Everything is aimed at the young people. What about the rest of us?

    This artist has defended traditionally aged concert goers and that is refreshing. She’s not just speaking for herself here, plenty of audience members are also not too thrilled about having to put up with small children at “grown-up” concerts. But we have to grit our teeth and bear it in deference to the sacro-sanc ideals of including young people.

    Maybe there are audience members who really don’t want children in concerts. Maybe we resent having to pay more for our tickets because of our age. Maybe we are sick and tired of the classical music world cow-towing to young people. Maybe we like to see white haired musicians instead of adolescent conductors. Maybe we are all fed up with the agism which dominates classical music.

    Here’s an artist who spoke up for us. Good for her.

    • Halldor says:

      Cuts both ways. For every “adolescent conductor” who doesn’t deserve the exposure they’re getting, I’ll show you a jaded septuagenarian hack charging superstar fees for interpretations they haven’t reconsidered in decades. I know which is more damaging to the art as a whole.

      And young people traditionally get discounted ticket prices because they do not, as a rule, have an independent income. It’d surely take a particularly intense strain of paranoia for a middle-aged, middle-class Caucasian to sit in the middle of a normal classical concert audience and still convince themselves they’re being “marginalized”.

      Really, what silly comments.

      • Anon says:

        And senior citizens are often existing on fixed incomes which don’t allow for the luxury of paying full ticket price.

        I am aware of very few septuogenarian “hacks”charging large fees out there damaging the art. When a conductor gets old and cranky they’re not generally hired back. Their contracts aren’t renewed. Unless they are really big names and even there there are only a handful on the circuit. And they are mostly quite good.

        Let me ask you this: what ever happened to middle-aged conductors? How many conductors between 50 – 65 yrs. old out there working regularly can you think of? How many of THEM do you see given a chance these days? There are real ageist issues against conductors of this particular age. Yet everyday there’s news of younger and younger conductors taking over as music directors. Baby conductors.

        Orchestras are hiring younger and younger musicians. It’s becoming harder to make it to retirement as an orchestral player because there is so much emphasis on hiring hot young talent. Older players are marginalized. Middle aged conductors are marginalized. Youth is given priority over experience and that really sucks.

        At some point there must be an equilibrium for classical music to survive. Yes, you open the door and include the young, but you never lose sight of the value of the older players, conductors and audience members. You can’t just discard everyone once they turn 30.
        You value their experience as players, you give them opportunities as conductors and you respect their wishes as audience members.

        Is that really so silly, Halldor?

    • SVM says:

      Although I am a twentysomething myself, I agree with Anon above, and would like to add that it is not just older audience-members who find poor audience behaviour and overhyped young performers irksome. I also agree with the suggestion made by various commentators that many parents need to show more discernment in determining whether their child is really ready to attend a public concert. Finally, I dread the day that I will turn 30, whereupon my opinion is likely to to be taken less seriously by the marketing hacks that seem to have taken over classical music.

  • StopTheMusic says:

    Kyung-Wha is bang-on ! ! !

  • Mark Stratford says:

    There’s an important point in Ms Chung’s comments in that there was actually laughter in the hall after all the crazy coughing. Of the reviews I saw, only the FT review picked up on this. With people laughing, it’s no wonder that she snapped.

    Anyway – it’s great to know that she’s back. Just lsten to those early recordings with Previn (Sibelius, Tchaicovsky, Walton and Stravinsky concertos) to remember what a marvel she was.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Bad taste? Who’s speakin’?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Kyung-Wha Chung is right.

  • John says:

    There probably shouldn’t be tickets priced for children at Ms. Chung’s concerts. I attended my first concert when I was eight years old. Loved every minute and still have the program where I garnered about twenty autographs of Minneapolis Symphony players, and their conductor (Antal Dorati, who was quite nice to me). I don’t know if I did anything to create a disturbance, but it made me a classical music lover the rest of my life.

  • Dora says:

    All right, but what it has to do with coughing? One may think, children of the older age group or adults can easily restrain themselves from coughing during the whole preformance. You either can deal with it by drinking wather or taking medication or you can not, regardless of the age. Would Kyung Wha suggest the old lady with a bad throat to come back, when she’ll get older?

  • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

    Fine, as long as we can also institute a maximum age limit for concerts too. I have far more frequently been disturbed by a squealing hearing aid, or a crinkled sweet wrapper or a loudly snoring pensioner by my side than by children.

    Oh wait, you mean that’s an unfair generalisation? Well, shucks.

  • Milka says:

    If Ms. Chung did berate the child ,it
    was a stupid reaction and she will long be remembered for this …. a child is
    a child acts and has a childs’ attention span .. the people at fault were the
    parents…more important what kind of an audience did she have …were they
    recital goers who understood the
    recital protocol ? …was it an audience that came only to see a so called
    legend ?, I must confess that I did not miss her absence from the concert stage at all but wonder if perhaps those
    attending this recital were in a more festive mood at her return and treated
    this as a happy occasion rather than
    a wake as most of these recitals tend to be . The response from Ms. Chung
    demonstrates she is a slow learner
    if she can learn anything at all at her age . It was just a child ……….

  • esfir ross says:

    In a movie “Casta diva” 1954 biopic on life Vincenzo Belinni Nicollo Paganini fron a stage saw a man that face expression seems a dislike. Paganini sent him angry look, demand manager to call Vincento back stage other wise Paganini not going back on stage.
    It’s a fiction but probably “fidler” can allow such antics.

  • Elizabeth Lesar says:

    I largely agree with Kyung Wha. If parents no longer seem to take adequate responsiblity for their kids’ behavior in public places, perhaps these limitations are necessary.

  • JCoker says:

    Such oversensitivity to trivial elements of an audience are, ironically, in their own way terribly childish. Borne of insecurity and heightened nerves, and not remedied by what should be a keenly developed sense of focus on the part of the performer; fear beating presence and concentration. There is such a thing as an audience member purposefully disrupting a concert or acting in a manner otherwise ruinous to the experience of those surrounding them. This isn’t it; this instead smacks of grade-school snobbery.

    Grow Up. It’s disproportionately significant importance assigned to behavior such as this (a child coughing? Really?!) which keeps the ivory tower image of classical music alive and well and makes the concert hall so intimidating and even distasteful for otherwise keenly interested, very intelligent, even musically literate patrons.

    Regardless the level of remarkable skill and history of accomplishments of the performer, it is in this case not the coughing child who plays the misbehaved juvenile.

    • JCoker says:

      *please excuse my opening line; such oversensitivity *is,* ironically, in *its* own way terribly childish. I, as a grammarian, humbly apologize.

    • CDesmond says:

      I quite agree. I am a classical musician, a teacher, and a mother of two restless young boys, who both love music with a passion. I take them to children’s concerts at every opportunity, but also like to take them to some of the “adult” conerts, as they call them as a special treat of sorts. We sit at the very back of the top balcony, and they actually do quite well much of the time. I do have the discussion with them ahead of time about why it is important to be quiet and still, for the focus of the musicians and other audience members, whether the event is designed for children or not.

      The children of today are the potential audience members and classical musicians of tomorrow. Who is going to keep this tradition of classical music alive if we don’t open doors to them when they are young and open to a wide variety of styles of music?

      I think responding strongly to a mere cough is a little extreme, not to mention the fact that I have attended and performed at concerts where some adults had little concept of respectful concert etiquette. If people were also laughing, that is another matter, though it is apparently not what she is focusing on in her repsonse to the people who ahve questioned her behavior.

      Spontaneous audience sounds are a part of the live performance experience, as well. If you want to perform in a perfectly silent hall, then it should likely be empty.

  • Emma says:

    This is such a bad idea. We hear everyday how audience attendance is low and how you only see old people at concerts, and now an artist herself is advocating for putting age restrictions in?? With attitudes like these we are just driving classical music into its grave ourselves.

    And yes I have been disturbed many many times in concerts by loud coughing from adults. It is annoying but what’s the point in getting mad? People came and paid to enjoy the concert, they are not coughing on purpose!!

  • smalltealady says:

    I am the mother of two small children (5 and 1) and I completely agree with Kyung Wha Chung. My 5 year old loves concerts and ballets. When she was 2 we took advantage of the ENO’s family friendly Christmas Nutcracker performance and she was entranced – in her own 2 year old way. We watched the whole full length ballet with frequent stops for narrative (look mummy the mouse king!). She would not have enjoyed herself so much if she had been forbidden from making any noise throughout the whole ballet. Children’s performances are a wonderful way of introducing young children to professional standard musicianship at an early age. I had never heard a professional orchestra until I was 19 (it was a revelation – wow oboes can sound like that?!) On the other side of the coin I would not dream of taking my children to a “proper” concert unless I thought they were ready. How thoughtless – both for the children and for the other audience members. Not to mention the musicians.

    • Mikey says:

      Bless parents like yourself. Our future generations are in good hands. Thank-you.

      • CDesmond says:

        But the child didn’t call out, “Look, a violinist, Mommy.” The child coughed. After an adult coughed and a bunch of other adults laughed rudly in response. Yet, her attention is on the activity of the child? If I am missing part of the story, please let me know.
        I have a 5 and 9 year old, and I do take them to “proper” concerts on occasion, along with as many children’s concerts as we can get to. They understand how they are supposed to behave at each type of event, and know that there is a bit more leniency allowed in the children’s events. A 1 and 5 year old would likely be a little less of a predictable mix, so I didn’t make such choices when my two were at those ages. Now the 9 year old is able to be a role model for the younger one, so it works out.
        I still don’t get why people don’t see the issue about the adults. Adults can be positively rude at concerts, and were apparently so, at this one. Why limit it to children? Why not just ban all coughing, talking, texting, laughing (even during P.D.Q. Bach pieces, just to be consistent), and also my personal favorite, the unwrapping of the cough drops/candy that have surprisingly loud wrapping material, which people supposedly do in order to avoid coughing?

  • 110 says:

    People,parents,pack a candy,a little bottle of water,a pan and paper and you have the perfect child ready for the concert.
    It is sooooooo simple!
    On top ,if you can find sits well high up where your child can see well the orchestra ( the drums are the hit) is fantastic.
    Common sense

  • 110 says:

    A pen and paper

  • Julia Bushkova says:

    Bravo, Kyung-Wha Chung! Bravo for letting the audience now that there is, indeed, an etiquette of behavior during evening concerts. Bravo for not offering any apologies for being right. Bravo for not caving in to the mass hysteria to “protect the children” that ensued. I also applaud the SMALLTEALADY for the comprehensive answer of an intelligent, thoughtful, caring mother of two children

  • Halldor says:

    Middle-aged conductors…well, at a pinch, I can think of some fairly well-respected ones at the Berlin Phil, Mariinsky, LSO, Dresden Staatskapelle, New York Philharmonic, Covent Garden, Leipzig Gewandhaus, La Scala…I could go on. And as for the septuagenarian hacks I mentioned; I agree – I can’t think of many. Equally, I can’t think of many of these so-called “baby conductors” who don’t have genuine talent (or at least as much as Toscanini, Mahler, Furtwangler, Boult, Walter, Karajan, Solti, Rattle etc showed when they acquired their first major posts in their 20s or early 30s). That was my point. Conductors’ careers are founded on hard work and genuine musicianship, regardless of age. Lazy, ageist stereotypes cut both ways.

    As to the idea that orchestras are hiring more and more younger players, I can only see that the figures I’ve seen as trustee of an orchestral pension fund simply don’t bear it out, beyond the natural replacement that happens in any organisation. Yet the longest-serving recent retiree of our orchestra served for over 40 years and joined at the age of 18 in the late 1950s. That would be almost unthinkable now.

    As to older and middle-aged concertgoers feeling discriminated against; well, from one glance at most of the audiences I find myself in I can only repeat that as a 40+ listener you’d really have to work quite hard to convince yourself that you were in some sort of neglected minority. That IS just very silly. And I’ve never once seen younger concert-goers angrily “shushing” a noisy or thoughtless older person (and don’t tell me there aren’t plenty) – or requesting that older listeners be cordoned off into a different part of the hall because they don’t happen to like the way they’re dressed; both of which I have witnessed directed at younger people by older concertgoers. Again – courtesy goes both ways.

    Classical music has enough problems, without inventing imaginary grievances. Ultimately, I’d echo the UK concert manager who, when asked whether he preferred “younger or older audiences”, replied “neither: I prefer big audiences”.

    • Halldor says:

      (Above comment a response to ANON further up the thread posted by mistake in the main discussion).

    • Anon says:

      Delighted at your list of middle-aged conductors! You’re quite right, I’d forgotten about these. Although I must say I think in general they don’t fascinate audiences or even orchestras, in the same way the “baby conductors” do.

      Berlin? Soon departing. LSO and Marinsky? Definitely under fire right now. NY? Not exactly A list. In short, these guys don’t have the advantage of youth backing their talent in the same way that say, Dudamel does.

      No one said the baby conductors are without talent. Many are extraordinary. But in many cases their selling point is not their talent but their age. Older conductors are judged primarily on talent. Seems to me to be a double standard, that, and yes, ageist.

      Regarding older players, for every musician who achieves 40 years of service and a successful retirement, such as the one you mention, there are at least 10 others who didn’t make it. They’ve quietly taken disabilities, gone over to full time teaching, changed
      careers, or in the worse case scenario, died, often of stress-related health issues. Suicide among aging orchestral players is not uncommon. I’m afraid you’re
      living in a fantasy world if you sincerely believe that older players, like older workers in many labor sectors, are not marginalized and undervalued.

      Regardless of what you choose to see, marketing strategies for classical music organizations are without a doubt focused on attracting new, younger audiences. And also regardless of what you choose to see, that can make older audience members feel

      Ageism exists in every profession, in every walk of life. It’s particularly prevalent in classical music, whether or not you wish to recognize it.

      Kyung-Wha Chung represents a distinct minority. She is a performing artist, a woman, no less, of an age when many artists have been convinced to retire from the stage. You have to respect that, and what she expects of her audience.

  • Bart says:

    Bravo, Kyung-Wha Chung! I’m delighted to see you are winning the argument.

  • David Johnson says:

    Come off it, Norman! As you can see from the range and quantity of supportive comments, far from offering an apology – which you still seem to think she should consider doing – the majority of people feel that not only what Ms Chung did was courageous, but also right. So why don’t you simply have the good grace to recognise and acknowledge that the line you took was wrong? And as for your snide comment about a ‘curious PR-spun response’, most of the interviews I read with her prior to her recital at the RFH contained similar interesting, idealistic, and wise comments about music and life. It’s therefore obvious that this article comes directly from her, and from her heart. She’s a great artist, with her values in exactly the right place, and so we should treasure her!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Obvious, huh? And she rang the Guardian and asked them to publish it unchanged and with a soft headline? How very naive. It’s a plain-as-daylight PR job.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      ‘The majority of people’? Most in the hall thought her conduct was appalling.

      • David Johnson says:

        ‘Most in the hall’ – were you actually there, Norman? If you take the time to look at the balance of replies, you will see that not only are the majority of people on Ms Chung’s side, but also many of them were at the concert itself. And their point of view is hardly surprising, since two minutes is a very long time for continuous coughing! In any case, your thoughts from 4 December – “she should not be demonised for unguarded remarks made at a moment of high tension. Let’s hope she bounces back” – seem to have gone out the window. If you really are so confident that she didn’t write this, I suggest you advise The Guardian of your allegations – and then print their response on Slipped Disc!

  • Anon says:

    I’ve got a better headline: keep Kyung Wha Chung out of concerts

    Washed up. Small-minded. Boring. Get over yourself. #firstworldproblems

  • Laura Claycomb says:

    Sorry, but I agree with the violinist. If people are sick and have a croupy cough, DON’T COME TO THE DAMN CONCERT AND HACK YOUR WAY THROUGH IT!! Nobody wants to hear your croupy, soupy half a lung being coughed up during the one soft part of the evening. (And you know they always wait until the soft bit to cough, because they want to enjoy the loud part and listen to it…) I’m sick of sick people going out in crowds, in any case. If you have to take a bunch of medicines to cover up your symptoms, YOU ARE STILL CONTAGIOUS, most likely! This boils down to a matter of egotism vs. being a responsible part of public society – and everyone obviously thinks they’re more important than everyone else who will catch their croupy soupy cough or have to suffer through their fits of coughing at our favorite bits of the symphony. Go home, people, and don’t bring your sick kid with you. I’m sure this was not just a clearing of the throat or a little tickle – there had to have been some really annoying, protracted hacking going on to have garnered that kind of a response. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t have been laughing at the ridiculousness of it, as well.