Two Distinct Youth Christmas Concerts

This Christmas season I have had a unique opportunity to attend and experience two school Christmas concerts. And they couldn’t be more different, although at the same time both of them had a rather interesting similarities, especially regarding the message I try to emphasize here at Musicably.
Before I continue, although this is not intended as a music critique, here is a necessary disclaimer: I am not an impartial observer. At each of the concerts one of our two children participated and played as a student musician. I believe that this gives me a unique opportunity to describe and review not only the concerts themselves, but to put them into a broader context.

First was a concert popular among Torontonians for a long time – the annual Christmas concert of the choir boys from the St. Michael’s Choir School. They have returned to the historical Massey Hall in the school’s neighbourhood after five years, when this popular music venue had been renovated.

The second was a Christmas concert of students of the Oscar Peterson Program at the Royal Conservatory of Music, at the traditional Mazzoleni Hall.
While the first concert’s performers are a unique group of specially selected and auditioned boys, who get as much music exposure and education as possible in a traditional school setting, the performers of the second concert are also specially selected and auditioned – but with a different intention – to give an opportunity to musical children, who don’t get many chances to perform on a stage, and with a group or an orchestra. As the program’s website explains:

The Royal Conservatory strongly believes that the transformative power of music to enrich lives should be accessible to all and created this new program to positively impact the lives of young people in our communities through the practice and performance of music.
The Oscar Peterson Program is a scholarship program that will provide high-quality comprehensive musical training, 100% tuition-free, to underserved youth from across the Greater Toronto Area, in an inspiring and supportive environment at the Oscar Peterson School of Music. This new initiative will hold true to Dr. Peterson’s belief that music education should be available to everyone.
The Program will reflect Canada’s unique multicultural society and promote inclusion and equity. For students who demonstrate an affinity for music, the program represents an extraordinary opportunity to open a new dimension in their lives that will have a profound impact on them personally, intellectually, emotionally, and socially.

While the choir boys are being trained and educated to perform on the highest musical standard on a regular basis, many participants of the Oscar Peterson Program are just testing their musical abilities. What all these children have in common is their enthusiasm, hard work and openness to let the active music making become an important part of their lives.

The renovated Massey Hall in its almost 130-years history has “seen it all” and it was a beautiful setup for the Choir School boys. The audience had a chance to listen to a good selection of traditional well-known yuletide songs and also contemporary compositions. Even audience participation was encouraged and expected a few times, what makes this a mutual festive celebration, and above all – a great example of enjoying singing together.

Various boys choirs were accompanied by The True North Brass, as well as the organist Philip J. Fillion, and pianist Josh Tamayo. Even alumni of the school formed one choir and sung a few songs also with the Junior Choir. 

While I had been enjoying the concert, I couldn’t stop thinking about what does it mean putting together 250 boys in a school setting – high demands on their abilities – academically, artistically, developmentally. Music and singing help these boys to achieve much more than many of their peers can only dream about. Because they have a purpose and because they understand that without a hard work they cannot succeed.

Mazzoleni Concert Hall

Hard work was also almost palpable at the Oscar Peterson Program’s concert. Although some participants don’t have much experience in that regard, what they have accomplished in a short three months playing together is truly impressive. This was not about staging a professional quality performance, but it was similarly to the boys’ concert, about enjoying musicking together. It was about getting courage to walk on a stage and sharing the gift of music with their co-players, and also with their families and friends in the audience.
Mazzoleni Concert Hall also breathes with history and its chamber atmosphere was really appropriate. First, we had an opportunity to watch and listen to a handful of pianists, then to five various chamber ensembles, and at the end the whole Oscar Peterson Orchestra, conducted by the Artistic Director Colin Clarke. The repertoire varied from seasonal compositions all the way to jazzy tunes.

I have touched the topic of the misleading effort for extreme musical professionalism a few times here in my posts, and these two concerts simply confirm my notion. What is important is to participate, to enjoy playing and making music together with others, to share the musical sound with others, regardless of the perceived quality. It is not about the division between the audience and performers, but about mutual togetherness with the purpose of musical enjoyment.
The main point I would like to share here is, that many parents force their children to play music, while they omit to explain them proper reasons for their expected effort. If forced, music often becomes a “torture” and children stop making music at the first opportunity, and sometimes end up hating it for the rest of their lives.
That is the most undesirable and unfortunate outcome of a generally good intention. The ability of making and playing music requires hard work. But if the expected outcome is enjoyment of musicking, of learning, of playing and having fun together, then that hard work suddenly may make sense and even may stop being so tedious. And this is what both of these performances so beautifully showed to performers themselves, as well as to the audience. My wish is just to have much more children to have such great opportunities.


Photos: Palo Beka

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