When a child disrupts your concert

When a child disrupts your concert


norman lebrecht

April 10, 2017

David Bernard was conducting a Brooklyn Symphony concert this weekend when a little boy started talking between two pieces, Firebird and Scheherezade, and would not stop. Audience members told the mother to take him out.

The conductor invited the mother and boy to sit in the front row. He told the boy: ‘I need your help. I forgot how many times the Scheherazade theme is played by the violin soloist, and I’m hoping you can count them for me.’ Each time the theme came round, the conductor turned to the boy and showed him on his fingers how many times it was.

The idea worked. The boy was perfectly behaved throughout the piece.

This morning, the orchestra received a letter from his mother:

‘I want to thank BSO for today’s wonderful concert. I also want to acknowledge the impeccable character of conductor David Bernard. I’m the mother of the little boy that became quite noticed in the middle of the set. David was remarkable how his way of being kind and generous towards my son transpired. Thank you. Although many viewers were not pleased, people approached us after the concert and were so proud. They were proud of my son and the way David created an opportunity to be loving. My son and I traveled from South New Jersey, near Philadelphia, you hear these 2 pieces as they are some of my son’s favorites. My son wants to be a conductor. He is just 8 and also on the autism spectrum. He’s an extraordinary genius. He’s so loving that he meant no harm. He was very excited. Thank you again for this was a huge day for him. All his teachers knew he was coming even before him. It was a surprise. Overall, my son loved it all and he can’t stop talking about the 5 times the violin played and that he counted. Thank you again. Please let David know. Regards, (name withheld).



  • Tom says:

    That’s how the next generation of audiences and future performers, composers and conductors should be encouraged. Bravo Mr. Barnard and the Brooklin Symphony.

  • David says:

    Kudos to Maestro Barnard, he found a solution to a difficult situation.

    Kudos to the mother that wrote such a kind and thankful note.

    Kudos to Rimsky Korsakov and Stravinsky for inspiring us all.

  • Alecia Lawyer says:

    It’s about time we develop actual relationships with our audience members. Bravo! In ROCO, I always invite kids to be right up front at our supposedly “adult” concerts. Parents are already so paranoid and sit in the back for a quick escape. However, this keeps the kids at an actual distance and removes them from the visceral physical experience of sound up close and personal.

  • Polly van der Linde says:

    Here’s a related story. We had a very talented young 7-year old pianist live with our family of 7 pianists because his parents felt that he wouldn’t be considered so different from other youngsters. You see, he was able to improvise in the style of many composers (at least those that he was familiar with). At age 8 he was asked to play the Haydn D major Concerto with the Vermont Symphony. At the dress rehearsal, his playing became an issue because he did not follow the score and improvised all over the place. The conductor, Efrian Guigui, handled this amazingly well by saying to the youngster: “You know, your audience is going to want to see that you can read music so I’m going to suggest you play with the score.” Problem solved. This conductor could have reprimanded the kid and scar him for life but instead chose this positive suggestion. The performance was amazing!

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Reprimanding ‘a kid’ is going to scar him for life. Oh my god, what planet are you living on!!!??? It is for people like you that we now have ‘safe spaces’. Snowflakes just won’t survive the coming of summer and life’s depredations, I’m afraid.

      • Randall Mathews says:

        It seems that your sensitivity levels are quite a lot lower than those of us who would have been scarred, and that you do not know this. These differences in perceptions are very important to artists and audiences alike, so it would be in your interest to learn of them rather than simply condemning them.

      • Polly van der Linde says:

        I used a poor choice of words for a nice story. A 7 year old rehearsing the afternoon before a concert that almost got cancelled because he didn’t stay true to the score but had a conductor offer a creative solution is the point of my post.

        • William Safford says:

          Don’t worry. Your choice of words is not the problem. Note the use of the ersatz-pejorative “snowflake” in the reply, which says more about the person posting than about you.

          It’s a lovely story. And I performed under Guigui in at least two different orchestras — good conductor, nice man, and he solfeged in Bb!

          • Holly Golightly says:

            “Snowflake” is in the lexicon now to describe a well-recognize set of behavioural traits. Sadly for you, the horse has bolted.

          • William Safford says:

            Hmmm, Miss Holly, let’s look this up. From Urban Dictionary:

            Snowflake (2)

            Referring to someone, usually the Alt-Right, Yiannopoulos, And Nazi Sympathizers (A.K.A. ARYANS), whose immense white fragility causes a meltdown when confronted with the most minute deviation from orthodox White Supremacy. They often cry bloody murder when expected to give the most modest expression of basic human decency.

            This is all a continuation of how Snowflake historically refers to people who are against the abolition of slavery.

            The ARYANS have attempted to hijack this term to use against progressives and those opposing Fascism. It failed ultimately, because nobody was foolish enough to believe anti-Fascist resisters to be, by any stretch of the imagination, comparable to the snowflakery of the ARYANs and their cheeto-dusted Fuhrer….

            Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Snowflake

            Why yes, Holly, I guess you’re right. That definition does seem to fit you like one of your namesake’s sheath dresses. Kudos. You changed my mind.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    David is a wonderful educator and conductor–and here is one instance where he did precisely the right thing. Good thinking!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Almost 55 years ago Willi Boskovski conducted an orchestra and played the violin in the Pier Pavilion Llandudno.
    My Mother had her usually seat in the front row. My five years old brother was so carried away with the music that he got up and danced. The maestro turned and smiled down at him. After, my Mother went back stage to apologise and was told it was nice to see a genuine reaction to the Music.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Hurray! Genius! We need more of this, i.e. involvement with the music. That’s what creates the future audience, not relaxing the rules and inviting use of electronic gadgets. The latter may secure the future of Apple, but not necessarily of audiences.

  • Name withheld says:

    An opposing view: As an audience member of said concert, I was appalled at what transpired during what should have been a sublime musical experience. That the child and his mother were encouraged to come to the front seemed not appropriate for this type of concert. Whether or not this child was on the autism spectrum, was enthused by the repertoire or wants to be a conductor shouldn’t have any bearing what is acceptable behavior in this situation. It is totally customary – and considerate – for parents of small children to sit in the back of the hall when attending an “adult” event such as this one. And as soon as the child begins to show an understandable discomfort, it behooves the parent to remove the child for the benefit of all. Three hundred people paying $20 a ticket did not come to watch a child disrupt the concert experience. Nor did the members of the orchestra work so hard to present the music to us deserve to have the focus taken away from THEIR efforts. Especially distressing was when the conductor repeatedly turned to the child at each iteration of the Scheherazade theme – so exquisitely played by the concertmistress – thereby taking all attention away from HER to the child and his particular behavior. I kept cringing, wondering if she would be allowed to continue her glorious playing with the silence she – and the music – so justly deserved.

    That the child in question had a wonderful experience is fine, but I question how appropriate it was in this case. There are many fine children’s concerts where this behavior is tolerated and encouraged. This concert was not the place for that.

    • Ness says:

      I believe that children will learn from their environment. What that child learned was acceptance into a societal event, that if it is to survive, must begin embracing youngsters. I believe the counting may have punctuated the playing. Every person has their own perception, hopefully based on their heart, not their wallet.

    • Daniel says:

      Thank you for providing the opposing point of view. It is important to consider. You were there, after all, not in theory, but in lived reality. Your reactions in the moment, as opposed to in hindsight, are absolutely valid. Also, at the same time, Maestro Bernard’s creative, benevolent solution might have changed the entire course of that one, sincere, soulful, innocent child who disrupted the performance. How beautiful is that? I know my life truly changed after listening to my sister play clarinet in The Pine’s of Rome in The Bay Area Wind Symphony when I was only 9 years old. That magical experience stuck with me my entire life, and I ended up becoming a music major and attended Juilliard for classical composition. But then I ask myself: what if my first experience at the symphony had been disrupted by another child? It’s a possibility that the course of MY life could have been altered away from music. Maybe. Maybe not. I asked my Mom about a story similar to this, and, as one of the most large-hearted people I know, she responded: “What would have been the kindest thing for everyone to do?” It’s a typical answer of my mom (a school teacher and devoutly religious) which doesn’t alway lead to clear cut answers. But I love her loving approach to problems anyway. So, as an exercise, her question led me to a multitude of questions: What would have been the kindest thing for the parent of the disrupting child to do? What would have been the kindest thing for the disrupted audience to do? And what was the kindest thing for conductor to do? Also, to your point, what is the kindest thing for everyone to do for the one person not in the room – the composer and his vision? Then, from a logician’s point of view, I also began to explore the PURPOSE of the event must always be considered first. A plane ride’s primary purpose is to move people from point A to point B. A jungle gym’s primary purpose to provide a safe, contained place for kids to be active. A school’s primary purpose is to educate its kids. What, therefore, is a symphony’s PRIMARY purpose, under which all other agendas should bow to? So, anyway, I came up with my answers.

  • Gayla says:

    Leonard Bernstein did this with his Saturday morning programs for children which were wonderful!

  • sara solomon says:

    what a wonderful thing to do! I am sure this child will be thrilled to tell everyone how much he helped!

  • Pete says:

    When my son was about age 8 or 9, I took him to an organ recital. The organist (Karel Paukert) came out and talked to the audience. When he saw a child there, he told him that the organ might be very loud, and he invited us to come up to the organ loft. He showed us around for a minute or two and gently told us to be very quiet as he played the first piece. We were quiet. Well-handled!

  • Marg says:

    Many lovely stories here about how to handle kids and music and make it a Winn win. Bra a!

  • Jeremiah T says:

    Wonderful of the conductor to be so helpful, although beating poorly behaved children might also be a solution!

  • linda pomerantz novis says:

    I’m a classical-jazz pianist; I’m a mom of a (light-of-my-life) fairly musical twenty-one year old son with
    high-functioning autism. Recently after some upsetting ‘family’ comments’ re our son-
    (he has speech & language processing delays)
    today a dear friend
    sent me this incredible link,of this post on Facebook.
    I’m writing this in praise of the conductor for his quick thinking, for the mother’s letter of thanks and for the beautiful eight-year-old boy, and for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

  • linda pomerantz novis says:

    I’m a jazz-classical pianist -we have our (light-of-our-life) twenty-one-year-old fairly musical,artisitc son who has high-functioning autism. Recently some upsetting comments-
    from siblings-re our son, and then today a dear friend sent me this link to this beautiful story here…and the comments here…and I’m feeling so grateful, having read of the compassionate conductor, improvising a situation, for everything the boy’s mother said, afterwards,ans for the beautiful eight-year-old boy, and finally to Rimsky-Korsakov and

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Nice. Risky.

  • AC Bird says:

    As a musician and mother of a child on the spectrum, this story made my heart grow three sizes. THANK YOU, Mo. Bernard and BSO! What humanity and generosity.

  • Mary says:

    Years ago, my brother took violin lessons from a violinist in the Atlanta Symphony. When he was about five or six, my mother took him to a concert to hear his teacher play. They were seated behind a woman who looked at them with disdain and said to him “I bet you’d rather be home playing Nintendo, wouldn’t you?” To my mother’s delight, he shook his head and said “Oh no, that’s my violin teacher there and Beethoven is my favorite.” The lady had nothing to say to that.

    Incidentally, my brother is now a professional musician who plays with a major organization. But how do we expect our symphonies to survive if we don’t raise the next generation to not only appreciate but really love classical music?

  • Carole says:

    Bravo, Maestro Bernard!

  • William Safford says:

    One other factor to take into consideration in this story: the Brooklyn Symphony is a community orchestra. I write this not to disparage it — I am a strong supporter of nonprofessional musical organizations — but to put it in context.