SUMMER 2021 update: while Tanglewood Festival is BACK this summer (check out the list of summer 2021 PERFORMANCES), children’s pre-event programming is not being offered. You could still read this post for general information about visiting with kids, and I will update when new family events are offered.
I used to think of a Tanglewood concert (in Massachusetts Berkshires) as a romantic date night idea. Over the last couple of summers however, attending a Tanglewood concert has become our family’s tradition (it is still part of our Berkshires couple’s getaways).
I have put together this list of things you may want to know about experiencing Tanglewood with family – so you could start your own Tanglewood summer family tradition!
(You can also follow our YouTube VLOG from our trip in July of 2019)
1. DIVERSE MUSICAL PROGRAMMING (and seating options)
Tanglewood, (in its 84th season in the summer of 2021), is of course the summer home of Boston Symphony Orchestra but also a center for advanced musical studies which welcomes nation’s leading young artists every summer to train and perform.
Official 2021 BOSTON SYMPHONY SUMMER season starts on Friday July 9th, but Tanglewood grounds open for the concert-goers earlier in the season (on July 4th this summer). See full list of performances HERE. It is a “reduced” programming this summer, but typically grand classical pieces (by the Boston Symphony) of the Tanglewood Summer are complimented by the beloved Boston POPS and other popular artists’ performances in a variety of musical styles.
A couple of summers ago, we got to experience Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue inside the Koussevitzky Music Shed.
As much as we enjoyed this magical experience, for families with young children, LAWN seating is the best (and most affordable) choice . There are programs during almost every day of the season (through September 1), with Sunday afternoon concerts (2:30pm) offering the most pre-concert programming to entertain and educate the entire family. (Saturday morning rehearsals or any programs with lawn seating will work too!)
And, children’s (under 18) tickets are always FREE for the lawn. (Note that children 5 and under are not permitted inside the Koussevitzky Music Shed Seiji Ozawa Hall during performances; there is NO age restriction for the lawn).
2. KIDS PROGRAMMING
2021 update: Kids pre-concert programming is NOT offered during summer 2021 season
To help families make musical connections, Tanglewood’s typical summer family programming includes pre-concert Watch and Play fun educational sessions, themed crafts activities, Instrument Playground, nature walks and an annual Family Concert on July 17 in the summer of 2021 (Byron Stripling conducts “American Melodies” with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra).
We make pre-concert “Watch and Play” part of Tanglewood itinerary every time we visit with kids. They typically have one or two members of the Boston Symphony (performing that night) engage the kids (ages 3-10, but all welcome!) with questions (“How does this music makes you feel?”), rhyming exercises, and virtuoso musical jokes (“Have you tried playing one violin with 2 bows?).
This summer of 2019, “Watch and Plays” family pre-concerts will be offered at 1pm EVERY Sunday (July 7-August 25th ) BEFORE THE CONCERT at the Chamber Music Hall. The Chamber Music Hall is located near the Visitors Center, in the rear of the Lawn; the program is free with that day’s tickets (and children’s lawn tickets are always free).
After the “Watch and Play” (also before Saturday morning performances), there is time for themed musical crafts at the casual drop in “Kids’ Corner” (right outside the Chamber Music Hall, in the grassy area near Tanglewood Visitors’ Center).
Tanglewood Family Fun Fest 2019 (with sponsorship from the Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays program) is scheduled for Friday, August 2, from 3-6 pm (with live musical performances, craft activities, nature walks, and of course- the Instrument Playground). Families could then stay at the Lawn- for free – for the BSO’s 8pm concert (Ken-David Masur conducts Martinů and Dvořák featuring violinist Joshua Bell ). Advance registration is recommended but not required.
3. CONCERT TIME: KIDS CAN STILL PLAY!
During the concert time on Sunday afternoons, our kids would dance when younger, but now are mostly quietly reading or drawing (no, we are not the “no electronics” family by no means, but we can still enforce the temporary “no gadget” rule with the elementary school kids in our group).
It is perfectly acceptable for the concert-going families on the lawn to get up and leave at times, or eat and drink, as long as you do not excessively bother other patrons. (I can tell you that the girls’ dancing during performances did not seem to bother anyone). Choose your lawn place “strategically” depending on your family’s needs. We had our blanket close to Shed, under a tree (for best shade). If it rains, you can quickly find refuge in the rear of the Shed; but some families prefer to position themselves further back in the rear of lawn, closer to play area (and the bathrooms).
If your kids need even more freedom to play than the Lawn area near the actual Concert Shed can offer (say, they would rather play ball) you can take them to the grassy area in the rear of the lawn, near the Visitors Center and in the Apple Tree lot of Ozawa Hall.
4. PARENTS CAN ENJOY SOME WINE WITH THEIR PICNIC
I love putting time and effort into preparing my special “Tanglewood” picnic basket worthy of the occasion (and it seems that a number of other people do so). But- you can just bring a bag of chips and still fit in. It is a wonderfully accepting place.
5. EXPANSIVE GROUNDS
The quality of Tanglewood musical performances is superb, but beautiful grounds are an essential part of the atmosphere.
You can see the Berkshire Mountains and the nearby Stockbridge bowl from some areas on the Lawn. The Visitor’s Center (rear of the lawn) offers Exhibits and information on Tanglewood history and walking tours of the grounds (call 413-637-5393 for more information) . There are also several casual dining options, and ice-cream concession stands. “Glass house” gift shop offers musical souvenirs and Tanglewood merchandise.
6. IT’S AFFORDABLE!
Tanglewood offers FREE lawn tickets for children and youth age 17 and younger (up to four free children’s tickets are available per adult; this offer does not extend to the “Popular Artist” series) at the Tanglewood Box Office on the day of the concert. You need to get your free tickets at the Box offices located at the entrance gates on the day of the concert. Adult lawn tickets range between $10-$26 depending on the day and time of performance, and students’ 18 and older tickets are 50% off.
We usually come 2.5 hours prior to performance to set up and enjoy the grounds and the pre-concert programming; they do not seem to run out of lawn tickets even if you come closer to performance time (with the exception of the 4th of July when all tickets were sold out in advance). For advance ticket purchases, call 617-266-1200 or purchase on line HERE.
7. YOU CAN MAKE IT A DAY TRIP
From our suburb South of Boston, we have done both day trips and overnight visits to Tanglewood; it’s just over 2 hours one way for us (more in traffic, of course, but if you leave early, you should be fine).
Check out SUMMER SUNDAYS bus tours from Boston. I have not tried them but they are officially partnered with Tanglewood and offer both transportation and tickets – see more information here.
8. NEW PLANS/ADDED SUNDAY PROGRAMMING
SUMMER Sundays pre-concert programming (July 7 through August 25 this year), continues to expand with new activities and events for all ages at various locations throughout the grounds – food tastings, yoga, games for families, and more! From 12:30- 1:30, additional offerings including lectures, performances, and musical demonstrations, will take place in the Theater. This summer I plan to check-out one of the Sunday Showcase pre-concert discussion. The sessions (not specifically targeting young kids) include: “Considering the Art of John Williams” (July 7), “On Beethoven’s Fourth” with Ken-David Masur (July 14), Boston Symphony Children’s Choir (July 21), “Wagner and Humor” (July 28), BUTI Cello Master Class with Amanda Forsyth (August 4), “The Birds of Tanglewood” (August 11), Vocal Ensemble Music from the Renaissance to the 21st Century (August 18), and “Beethoven in Film” (August 25). Sunday Showcase sessions begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Theatre and are free to Sunday concert ticket-holders.
MORE TIPS FOR YOUR TANGLEWOOD VISIT:
1. For SUMMER 2021, be sure to purchase your tickets (even lawn ones) in advance.
2. Plan to come early for best lawn seating options and to enjoy pre-concert programming. Grounds Open at 5:30pm for the evening concerts; and on 9am for morning Rehearsals; On Sundays: at Noon for 2:30pm concert (check the timing for special events).
3. Cooking and open flames are prohibited.
4. In the event of severe weather, patrons will be directed to shelters (no refunds offered).
5. Umbrellas are now permitted (and small open-sided canopies) to shade from the sun (no stakes over 6″ in length, or canopies of more than 6′ square or umbrellas exceeding 4′ in diameter. )
6. No pets (except for service animals) are allowed on Tanglewood property.
For more things to do in the beautiful Berkshires with kids, check out this Post.
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