I’ve been to eleven thousand school concerts, and I have something to say.

My late father-in-law leaned over and whispered, “This is the hardest part of being a parent.”

We were all in pain, physical and psychological; we were all chilled to the bone and exhausted beyond all reason. We felt as though we were losing our minds, as dismal, unintelligible noises assaulted our senses. We were all trapped, and no one knew when release would come. Worst of all, we had to keep clapping.

Yes, it was a school concert. This was sometime during the third hour of our exile in a school gymnasium. We manually held our eyelids open toward three fourteen-year-old girls making vaguely soprano whispering noises to the accompaniment of a sweating pianist. It was, if I recall, part of a salute to rockabilly in medly form. A medly which should have been called, “When Will Death Come?”

Well, my husband and I have witnessed nine out of ten kids sing their way through an awful lot of schools. Some of them had sensible, humane, even brilliant music directors, some of them . . . did not. We are proud of our kids, and we like them, and all. We support them, basically. Some of them are even kinda musical. But I have a thing or two to say. 

School concerts should not be three hours long. Never ever ever ever. I don’t care if it’s an excellent program bristling with stunning performances of world-class masterworks. IT SHOULD NOT BE THREE HOURS LONG. Anyone who has a school aged kid needs to be buying groceries, drinking gin, or asleep, and three hours away from doing those things is three hours too long. 

Songs should be age-appropriate. Since these are school children performing for their parents, exactly zero of the songs should be about sex or lust. You can get away with some innuendo in high school, but otherwise, basta. Let’s all get together and demand not to be put in a position where we look like a jerk for not wanting to clap after a nine-year-old girl belts out an anthem about her burning desires. 

And “dance teams” should be illegal. Hell damn fart. Where are the adults?

Kids shouldn’t have solos unless they are pretty good for their age. I realize this is crushingly harsh, and when I’m done with this essay I am going to go out and hit some flowers with my cane, but I still insist a solo is something you earn by being a little bit better than the other kids. I will make an exception if maybe a kid has overcome tremendous obstacles and has found a way to shine despite overwhelming adversity etc etc etc, and even though it’s not an objectively good performance, it really moves you. Fine. I just find it really hard to believe that all eleven terrible soloist are this particular type of shining star. I know these kids. They’re just regular mopes. Off the stage, mope. You dun sound so good.

Kids should perform things they are capable of performing, with maybe one or two “reach” numbers. If it’s the day before concert day and the sounds they’re producing make your skin crawl even mildly, go ahead and cut that number. Nobody in the audience is going to stand up and shout, “I say, choir master, I object! This program simply wasn’t long enough!”

If you let anyone beatbox, you should be shot. I don’t make the rules. 

The teacher does not get to perform. I’m sorry, am I your mom? Are we all your mom? No?  Well then! I guess we’ll just have to spend a moment of silence contemplating how sad it is that you ended up teaching the mouthbreathers in East Flupping Middle School chorus instead of dazzling Broadway, and then we’ll leave it at that, rather than enduring another encore of “How High the Moon” by Ms. Coulda Woulda Shoulda and Her Rather Startling Dress. 

If you want to include an emotional ceremony commemorating the special relationship the students have with the teachers, and you somehow didn’t do this during the rest of the entire year that you had together, you get three minutes. THREE MINUTES. When this folding chair has been biting into my thigh for over an hour already, my last remaining bit of patience will be entirely transformed into white-hot loathing if we have to pause the program while forty-three girls in heels they absolutely cannot manage pick their way across the risers and totter over to receive a carnation and a hug and an award for some choir in-joke, and then totter back while everyone giggles and claps and sighs. It’s not that I’m cold-hearted. It’s just that I hate you all so much. 

And what about the audience? Don’t they have any responsibility? 
Yes. They need to not sit there slowly and sensually scratching their husband’s back all throughout the show. Gah. 
Oh, and you can do a standing ovation if you want. I’m sitting down. I’m sitting down. 
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19 thoughts on “I’ve been to eleven thousand school concerts, and I have something to say.”

  1. I do agree with most of your points, but frankly I feel that you can stop acting like a consumer and do it yourself if you want a better production.

  2. Move to Europe! Our kids school concerts are great, never too long, age-appropriate and well planned. It’s a true joy for parents to attend. I truly cannot imagine the situation you describe. I guess I have one more reason to thank the Lord today!

  3. I have been a music educator for 37 years. I read the article and felt very vindicated in my students’ preparation. My concerts/programs never exceeded one hour. Soloists were exceptional and within the performance of a full ensemble. I never performed, it is all about the students. Finally, I would never allow music to be suggestive or in topics that are inappropriate. I am sorry that some educators do not follow these ideals.

  4. School concerts are purgatory on earth. This is just another symptom of “if you give your best, that will do.” Maybe your best is still terrible, because you are not musically inclined. It’s okay. A little disappointment saves so much parental suffering. However, high schools music and drama depaetments performing various musical and plays and selling tickets is definately the way to go. Fundraising and educational as well as a strong incentive for soft-headed teachers to make sure people get their money’s worth. “If your kid is that good, cough up 20 bucks to go see them.” – my Dad.

  5. I’m so sorry! But I have a helpful suggestion: move to the Midwest. We just moved to Wisconsin, and our kid’s school is so traditional they just had each grade stand up to sing one or or two traditional songs (e.g., a song about the names of the states, or “Do your ears hang low,” etc.), and they didn’t even feel the compulsion to modify the boring old words to make them topical – they just sang the original words! It was so refreshing! (Although I won’t say the program couldn’t have been shorter without me complaining, or that the kids had perfect pitch or anything… But they did sing a whole lot better than I would have expected.)

  6. Ditto for graduations. I attended my Goddaughter’s high school graduation last Friday. It wasn’t really a lengthy program (180 graduates, about an hour and 15 minutes). The problem was the low life, no class families and friends who apparently were raised to be soccer hooligans – and their numbers were legion. Not only did they dress like a bunch of hooches, they felt it was their function to screech, hoot, and ring cowbells (yes, cowbells) throughout the entire program. The valedictorian, salutorian, principal, and Board president were all interrupted by these knuckleheads. They went into overdrive and screeched after *every single* name – 180 – was read. Thankfully, in accord with their lack of couth, when their own graduate crossed the stage, they left and did not remain for the rest of the kids. I am getting too old for this.

    1. What is even worse is when individual families do this for their kids when their names are read out. When I graduated from HS, The kid in front of me got lots of noise which went on when my name was called. My family didn’t get to hear my name because of the family before me. It made me quite sad at the time.

  7. Thirty minutes. Do you hear me? THIRTY MINUTES. That is a good length for a school concert. Maybe, if it’s wonderful, forty. But usually: THIRTY. MINUTES. Says this mother of five with a husband who has perfect pitch and remarkable patience.

  8. ” It’s not that I’m cold-hearted. It’s just that I hate you all so much. ”

    LOLOL This is my new favorite thing you’ve ever said.

  9. Having sung in school concerts throughout grade school, high school, and college, I can tell you that I agree with every single one of these. I had choir director after choir director who had either a poor grasp of reality or optimism bordering on mania. There’s not much more embarrassing than standing up in front of five hundred people and trying to sing that magnificent classic of vocal music that Mr. Overachiever just introduced six days ago to a chorus of thirty-three twelve-year-olds. Yeeesh.

  10. Audience members need to be respectful and shut their mouths during the concert! Maybe your little spawn isn’t singing or playing at the moment, but someone else’s is and they’d rather hear them than what you’re planning for dinner tonight!

    1. For a half hour concerts I would agree. But refer to OP for all the things I need to be doing with those 3 hours. Best solution is to allow audience members to drink during the performance. Otherwise prepare for either some level of multi tasking or sleeping from the crowd.

  11. Word! Truth!
    I will add that when paying good money for kid’s dance class, I have zero interest in a huge chunk of The Nutcracker being devoted to the teacher and her husband dancing. As far as I’m concerned, they stole that time from a HS kid who had earned it and parents paid for it. The teacher and spouse can go dance with the Garden fairies in their back yard.

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