Our son Kent was two and daughter Amy four the night we took them to their first live musical event. We lived in what was then the laid-back, no-rush-hour sleepy little capital and university town of Austin, Texas, which had not even begun to imagine itself as the busy musical mecca it is today. (South by southwest was a still a geographical direction, so we knew where we were headed or where the storm was moving in from, and not the musical converging point of the four corners of the earth that it is now.) Being young and restless parents always looking for activities we could afford and that would get us all out of the house, an outdoor concert at Zilker Park seemed like a good idea. A local dance group was performing, it was in our price range (free!), and it was a chance to pack up the kids for a night at the ballet.
What took place that night 38 years ago was a transformative moment that could probably not have happened today. Children’s lives then were not saturated with the endless loops of Muzak in restaurants, constant television in the background, and “noise” toys that play loud silly music or goofy sounds. “The Farmer Says” Fisher Price toy, with its animal sounds, was about as noisy as it got on Liberty Street, except for the afternoon sounds of piano students or the nocturnal music of my own practice sessions wafting from the living room. It was an ipodless, idyllic Texas sound environment, home on the range where seldom was heard a discouraging word, much less the unwanted invasion of mall music.
So we spread ourselves out on our blanket at the park, armed with snacks to forestall any unwarranted stirrings from our kids, and hoped for the best. After a few dance numbers of varying quality and genres by kids of all ages, the pivotal moment arrived. A young troupe of ballerinas in white tutus took the stage, performing a corps de ballet number from Swan Lake. Being outdoors on a glorious starlit spring night with Tchaikovsky, the Austin audience was rapt. Kent, our 2-year old, was still as a mouse and seemed spellbound. In the middle of the ballerinas performance, he whispered softly in my ear, “Mommy, when it’s over will they go back up to the sky?”