For the past three years, the Greensboro (North Carolina) Public Library, in partnership with the Eastern Music Festival, have presented a series of concerts called “EMF Encircling the City.” It is a special outreach to introduce children to classical music. Children dearly love any music they hear.
This series exemplifies fairly standard library programming. Surely all public libraries in this country provide rich and varied experiences for children, including live music.
Most of them present live music to youth and adult audiences. too. Many even have dedicated concert halls so they don’t have to try to fit performances into multi-purpose rooms.
“EMF Encircling the City” is a three-year-old partnership that began as part of the Eastern Music Festival’s 50th-anniversary celebrations. Diane Phoenix-Neal, a Greensboro violist and EMF faculty member initiated the series. (For whatever it’s worth, she’s black and first participated in EMF as a young student.)
Two different string quartets of EMF students perform at all of the library’s branches. They give children in all parts of town, all economic classes, all racial and ethnic groups a chance to experience live classical music.
I described my musical impressions of the musical aspects of a concert I attended in my blog Musicology for Everyone, but didn’t address it as a library program.
The library staff had a collection of childrens’ books on a table along the back wall. I noticed that they included not only books about classical composers, but also at least one about Duke Ellington and jazz.
Phoenix-Neal frequently referred to the books in her remarks. With the backs of chairs jammed up against the table, I wasn’t sure how much attention anyone would pay to them, but when the concert was over and the chairs were vacated, I did notice at least some interest.
Part of any library’s summer children’s programming is to stimulate interest in reading. Whatever other educational entertainment libraries provide along with their reading programs enhances that goal. If the book display is too crowded after a concert, the children can always come back later to get the books. And I’m sure many do.
Why libraries must support music
Live music at the library creates interest not only in reading, but music. A few of the children who learn to love music will grow up to become performing musicians. All of them will become part of audiences.
Popular music, by definition, depends on a mass audience consuming a lot of new music. Each new song must be enough like everything else popular at the time, but different enough to have some novelty. The popular music industry has now operated on that principle for more than two centuries.
As I have frequently noted in my music blog, the distinction between popular and classical music began at about the same time. Arguments over the relative merits of classical and popular music have continued virtually unchanged.
What is different now is that, besides classical music proper, there are other alternatives to the popular music industry. Jazz, for example, or any music that used to be popular music and still has an audience.
Public libraries have a very important role to play in preserving all of these alternative musics. Besides maintaining recordings of various kinds and written notation in their collections, they provide places for free performances.
And in their programming for children, they help develop and nurture audiences who will keep the music a living tradition for generations to come. That is an especially critical role in the current educational atmosphere that devalues any educational experience that’s not subject to standardized testing.
Photo credit: “EMF brings music into libraries” / News & Record