Orchestra “Cry Rooms” Should Really Be “Engagement Rooms”

"Children's Symphony," by Georgios Jakovides(Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis (Flickr))
"Children's Symphony," by Georgios Jakovides(Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis (Flickr))

We all love the little ones – their untarnished innocence, their unfettered imaginations and their spongelike soaking in of the world around them.

Nowhere are children spongier – or more beautifully and authentically who they really are – than when they’re surrounded by music. When music’s playing, children can’t help but start moving around, creating their own dances, bopping to the beat or, better yet, dancing unapologetically to their own beat.

As miraculous as children’s natural affinity for music is, it can become a bit of a conundrum in the concert hall. Imagine: Mom and/or Dad bought tickets to, say, an orchestra concert in order to expose their child to great music and to have a nice family experience together.

The music starts, and the wee one does what wee ones do; they try to move around to the music, which in the context of a seat in a concert hall translates into squirming, squeals in delight at the music or in frustration at not being able to move around more freely.

Piercing glances beam at the parents from nearby concertgoers. The chagrined parent removes the child from the auditorium. Both the child and the accompanying parent, banished to the lobby, can hear the music only through the auditorium’s closed doors. The child’s unbridled musical experience is now, well, bridled by parental control. And the cozy family day at the concert? Gone in a flash.

Ripping a page from the playbooks of any number of American churches, some U.S. orchestras, like the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, have arranged for cry rooms at the venues where they perform. A cry room gives parents and their more active children somewhere beyond the auditorium to go where they can sit down and at least hear, if not also view onscreen, the rest of the performance.

The Denver Philharmonic’s cry room also has space where children can dance, squirm or groove to the music, according to the orchestra’s executive director Valerie Clausen.

I’d like to issue a challenge to orchestras and classical music organizations everywhere to offer similar spaces where children can connect with music in the way that is most natural to them. We’d have to call this kind of room something other than a cry room, of course, maybe a “dance room” or an “engagement room” – and we’d have to promote it as a great way – perhaps even the best way – for children to experience classical music to the fullest extent.

Whatever it may be called, I’d like to think that such a room where children could really engage with music would allow classical music to seep into their pores and, with the joy of moving so freely and authentically to it, infuse their little bodies and souls with such unabashed happiness that they would fall in love with it forever. It might or might not happen with an “engagement room,” but it almost certainly won’t happen without one. And I, for one, am willing to keep the dream alive.