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Beverly Beckham

The grinch who stole Holiday Pops

Shaquille O’Neil tries his hand at conducting the orchestra during a Holiday Pops Concert at Symphony Hall last season. Shaquille O’Neil tries his hand at conducting the orchestra during a Holiday Pops Concert at Symphony Hall last season. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File)
By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / September 18, 2011

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In the past, someone else paid for the tickets. A friend said, “I have an extra.” Work said, “We have a table.” On the few occasions when I did pay to go to a performance at Symphony Hall, it wasn’t $127.

But that’s the cost of coveted orchestra seats for the 2011 Holiday Pops Performances, which begin Dec. 7: $72-$127 for orchestra, $57-$72 for first balcony, and $34-$42 for second balcony.

Symphony Hall isn’t the only overpriced ticket in town. Theater. Sports. Concerts. Special events. They are all off the chart. But this “family” event is way out of the reach of most families.

People who’ve been to this holiday show say it’s worth every penny. I’m sure it is. As long as you’re not counting pennies.

But most families are. Every day they’re being stretched to the max. It costs to take the school bus, to park if you drive, to play a sport, to be in a play, to be in a club. Just two weeks ago, my daughter got a notice from school asking her to purchase supplies not just for her child, but for the class. That was $70. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that a holiday concert at Symphony Hall is pricey. But this pricey?

“These special family concerts include a children’s sing-along and post-concert photos with Santa,” the BSO website says, which makes you think that at least after you pony up what is close to a week’s take-home pay for many people, you’ll walk away with a small professional photo as a memento.

But when you call and ask about these pictures with Santa, you’re told that you don’t actually get a photo because there’s no hired photographer on site. What you get is the opportunity to bring your own camera and have your children pose with Santa.

The Holiday Pops for Kids is supposed to be for kids. So why don’t the prices reflect this? Who wouldn’t want to make a trip to Symphony Hall part of a Christmas tradition, to get their children dressed up and show them this magnificent building and introduce them to live music and culture and the feel of this place? But really, what typical, middle-class, working family can afford these prices? (Plus the $6.25 per ticket service fee, when you order online or by phone.)

Children under 2 get in free. That’s the good news. The bad news is that everyone 24 months and older has to pay full price, even for an 11 a.m. show.

The bottom line is this: If you want your kids to sit at a table close enough to see the stage and enjoy “special kid-friendly menu options,” aka lunch, and you have two children and two parents and maybe two grandparents who tag along, you are looking at an $800 afternoon, not counting food.

In an e-mail, the BSO defended its pricing. “The Boston Pops goes to great lengths to make Holiday Pops tickets available to young families by offering Kids Matinee concerts at 11 a.m. on five dates throughout the Holiday Pops season. . . . Children under 2 years of age are admitted free of charge, allowing parents to forgo child-care costs during the special family outing. In addition, the Boston Pops distributes more than 2,000 Holiday Pops tickets to underserved families through a variety of charitable organizations.”

The show is magical. But it’s magic that most kids in Massachusetts will never see, a stretch for most parents. They’d be better off taking their kids to a local theater holiday production or hiring a piano player and a Santa Claus.

Which is what we are going to do.

We’ll have a sing-a-along and photos with Santa at home.

Canton resident Beverly Beckham can be reached at bevbeckham@aol.com.

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