For the past 22 years, David Katz has taken his 12 grandchildren to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Fiddlesticks Family Concert Series. The tradition began in 1994, two years after Fiddlesticks’ debut, when Katz’s eldest granddaughter was four. A lover of classical music and a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Katz saw an advertisement for the concert and knew it would be a great way to introduce his eldest granddaughter, Jenny, now 26, to music.
Katz remembers dressing up in a suit and tie and greeting Jenny at the door. “It was like going out on a first date,” Katz says. They both loved the concert and purchased a subscription for the three-show season. When Jenny’s sister, Amy, was old enough to attend they all went together. Katz continued taking each of his twelve grandchildren plus three other children on whom he serves as “surrogate Papa” to the concerts. A Katz family tradition was born!
The Katz family’s Fiddlesticks routine has remained the same through the years and with each grandchild. Katz says, “All the grandkids consider this a special Papa event and I do, too.” Their Fiddlesticks Saturdays begin at 10 a.m. with Discovery Time Adventures, a pre-concert event that includes interactive activities throughout Heinz Hall. At 11:15 a.m., the concert begins. Each concert lasts 45 minutes and is centered on a different theme that engages the children with music in a new way. The morning is led by Fiddlesticks, the Pittsburgh Symphony’s musical ambassador to children (a fluffy cat with a fiddle), and accompanied by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, vocalist Katy Williams and other special guests. For the Katz grandchildren, the day doesn’t end with the concert; Katz always takes them to a restaurant of their choice to celebrate their special time with their Papa.
Katz says that, although his grandkids experience the concerts in a different ways, they are always completely engaged and excited. “You can just tell … when you’re sitting there and the orchestra is right in front of them [that] they’re so impressed with it … Some of them fidget around but when the music starts playing they are just rapt [by the experience].” He recalls that one of his granddaughters was known to stand up and stare in awe as the orchestra played; “She almost got hypnotized!” Katz laughs.
Katz is especially appreciative for the opportunity to have his grandkids exposed to music through the lens of a professional orchestra.
“My grandkids get tired of me saying this. When we go into Fiddlesticks and we sit down I say ‘remember, you are watching a world-class orchestra’ … The quality level of play is just ‘awesome,’ to use the kids’ words.”
Katz, himself, is a self-proclaimed “local-yocal.” As a child growing up in Pittsburgh, Katz took piano lessons regularly and a few violin lessons with Lorin Maazel’s father. (Maazel, who was just six years older than Katz, would go on to serve as music director for the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1984 to 1996.) In high school, Katz began attending Pittsburgh Symphony concerts at the Syria Mosque with his school buddies and kept attending because “I just loved the music.” Also while in high school, he learned the clarinet when his school’s orchestra was in need of an extra player. It was Fiddlesticks that inspired Katz to pick it up the clarinet again. For his grandkids, he learned the Fiddlesticks theme song, “Music Can Make Your Life Complete!,” and plays it on his clarinet at family gatherings for his grandkids to sing.
Outside of the Fiddlesticks concerts and the occasional dusting off of his old clarinet, Katz has maintained his personal excitement for classical music through his and his wife’s subscription to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s BNY Mellon Grand Classics series. They have been subscribed to what Katz calls the “Sunday afternoon senior concerts” for 20 years. Through these concerts, Katz has created his own Pittsburgh Symphony tradition. He and his wife attend each of the 20 concerts in the series with another couple with whom they plan their day. The program starts at 2:30 p.m. and typically ends by 5, giving the two couples a chance to go to dinner and catch up after the concerts. Each Sunday, the women take turns choosing a new Pittsburgh restaurant at which to dine. And each Sunday that there is a Steelers game, Katz and his friend make sure to have access to the score during breaks in the concerts and throughout dinner. (They are Pittsburghers after all!)
Now a retired OB/GYN and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Katz looks to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as an important source of culture as much today as it was for him in high school. He says, “[the Pittsburgh Symphony is] relevant because it’s an asset to the region — Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania area. It provides enjoyment and raises the level of culture.” He is enthusiastic to be able to share this with his grandchildren through the Fiddlesticks Family Concert Series and with his wife through their BNY Mellon Grand Classics subscription.
The 22- year Fiddlesticks tradition may be coming to an end as Trevor, Katz’s youngest grandchild is entering the 6th grade. Katz recently sat Trevor down for the talk that every Katz grandkid has experienced at some point in early adolescence. “I said, ‘Trevor. You’re going to turn 11 … Do you still want to continue to go [to Fiddlesticks]?’ He said, “Yeah! [I do]!”
As for when Trevor grows out of the concerts, Katz says, “Maybe I’ll live long enough to take great-grandchildren.”
As Fiddlesticks’ longest subscriber, Katz’s love for his music and family will surely keep this “Papa event” and Katz family tradition going for as long as possible.