Leon & Dad: ABBA@The Toronto Symphony

Updated: Sep 1


A 10-year-old enjoying an ABBA Tribute Concert? It’s a bit of a stretch.

And when you add the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as the backing band, it seems even less likely that my kid will be into it. So, I gave it 50/50 that Leon would last through the first half of The Music of ABBA, and only 60/40 that I would enjoy it myself.

TTC Streetcar to Roy Thompson Hall


I'm an ABBA fan. Partly because I was there when they hit it big in the 70s-80s, and because I think some of the songwriting and arranging is genius. But I don't like when things are watered down, which is likely when it’s a tribute vocal group that’s paired with a conventional symphony on a ‘Pops’ gig.


But the best thing about going to something like this with a kid is that you see and hear through their eyes. Cliché I know, but as we sat in that giant Roy Thomson Hall, I was busy looking around at the humanity, averaging the age and socioeconomic status of the patrons [it was a sea of grey hair and disposable income]. Whereas Leon immediately pointed at the magnificent speaker carbuncle at the center of the 150 foot ceiling and said “Dad! Minecraft!”



Roy Thompson Ceiling



Loudspeaker Clutch



Minecraft Video Game- GHAST


Our comps, courtesy The WholeNote Magazine were good- on the floor, stage left. Not super-close to the stage, but that allowed me to continue people-watching when my aural attention waned. Which it did, regularly.

I'm a fan of dissonance and for me most symphonic/classical music is 75 different ways to say the same eight bars in G major. I like minor keys, off-kilter composition, and haunted harmonies; give me Thelonious Monk and the Beatles 3-part vocals, ‘ABBA Hits’ arranged for symphony are potentially ‘of interest’, but these versions were likely to be very ‘round at the edges’.


Overture

Leon: Dad, why do they keep changing the song?

Brian: It's called The Overture. They play a bit of all the songs to tell us what's coming.

Leon: You said there would be singers.

Brian: They're backstage waiting to come on. The Overture is like our warmup to them.



Ready for Curtain


At 7:30pm, the ‘Voice of God’ announced the conductor, who then introduced Rajaton- the 6-person choral group from Helsinki. Then it became an orgy of pinkies-up protocols. The conductor and his guests described each other as the ‘absolute best’ this or the ‘world class’ that, which always makes me wish they would include something dark: She’s making great progress in therapy since a disastrous break up 18 months ago. But if you listen hard during her ballad, you’ll hear the pain in her voice!"



Avengers Await!


Leon half-listened while fiddling with his Lego characters. I waited nervously for his first “Is this almost over?” But he didn’t complain, Super Trooper that he is.



TSO Mascot



Leon Channels Gustavo


THE SONGS

They opened with ‘Dancing Queen’ which is my favorite ABBA song. I love the dramatic vocal transition from chorus to bridge: “You can dance, you can [blah blah, blah blah?] around in your life. See that girl, Watch that scene, Dig It- the Dancing Queen”. Or maybe it’s the 2nd eight bars of the chorus? Does that make the first eight a ‘Pre-Chorus? I’d like to listen to a podcast about ABBA compositions; I’m sure the composer[s?] broke or created some new pop music ‘rules’.


Leon was into it. He watched the singers ‘almost dance’ around the front of the stage, and rarely went back to his Spidermen.

Leon: Will they sing Mamma Mia next?

Brian: Maybe.

Leon: Will there be snacks at intermission?

Brian: Definitely. And Ginger ale.


He liked getting to his feet and clapping when everyone else did. He liked that he had his Lego guys when the singers talk too much between songs. He liked it that I rubbed his back when he started squirming after 45 minutes of sitting.


Leon’s face was radiant as they began ‘Mama Mia’. I tried to figure out how that particular tune was cemented in his mind as the iconic ABBA song. Was it the Jukebox Musical movie we half-watched a few days ago? Was ‘Mama Mia’ some fun part of a Disney-Pixar film he’s seen?


Or is it on a Dance Playlist on his mom's computer? [he tells me that they have occasional ‘living-room dance-break parties’].


INTERMISSION



The people-watching at break was wonderful. The wraparound Roy Thompson lobby goes on for miles with a different bar every hundred feet. And they had Smartfood! His 10-year-old body was so happy to move around after all that sitting. He destroyed his popcorn and Canada Dry, then asked if they had French Fries.


Inhaling at break

I was impressed by how many under 30s there were in the crowd, and I was glad to see some of them dressed very unconventionally. We stood near a young woman whose symphony outfit was bordering on Marvel Superhero [or was it ABBA inspired? Likely]. Leon would have left happily after intermission, but he agreed to go back for more.


We got through two songs in the second half before he started whispering negotiations for screen time when we got home.


Leon: Just 5 minutes of something- The Simpsons?

Brian: Sorry kiddo, it’s a school night.

Leon: Then can we get French fries on the way home?


At the next tune that called for ‘stand up and clap’, we exited stage left. He was very animated on the way home and really enjoyed walking downtown, something he has been trepidatious about through the pandemic.


What other non-screen event might he enjoy this summer? ‘Shakespeare in the Park’? An Ontario Place concert? The ABBA tribute really went well, and I feel obliged to keep up the momentum. He was tired and snuggly on the way home. I wondered where we could grab some French fries…


Heading Home



SMITH ET PERE: SCORE

‘The Songs of ABBA’ at TSO Concert: 7/10

Leon and Brian Non-Screen Evening Out: 11/10



B&L Downtown

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