When I was in the fourth grade my mother decided I needed "culture," though neither one of us was entirely sure what that meant. She might have come to this conclusion because from kindergarten on I saw the vice principals at the three schools I attended often enough that we developed a first name relationship. It might have been because I had managed to go through three schools in that short time span, or that note from my third grade teacher asking my mother if she'd considered military school. It might have been that fire in the basement that wasn't my fault. Whatever the reason, she decided that if I were exposed to culture it might somehow settle my restless spirit, a sort of Chicken Soup for the Delinquent Soul. (None of us had heard of ADHD then.) Her solution was to take me to the symphony.

On the way to the Saturday children's matinee, I chaffed in the suit usually reserved for Sunday, Christmas Day, or funerals, that she had decided was a prerequisite to culture.

"Why are we going to the sympathy?" I asked, intentionally mispronouncing the word as I squirmed in the seat next to her.

I waited for her to correct my pronunciation, but she only sighed. She had given up correcting me after the 50th time or so, which I thought showed remarkable restraint.

"Because music sooths the savage beast."

"Then why didn't we bring the dog?"

By the time we got to the auditorium she had run out of sighs and patience. The final frustration? As soon as the music started, I went straight to sleep. I'm told that when the orchestra played the "William Tell Overture" I muttered "High, Ho, Silver."

It was with memories (however fuzzy) of that concert dancing like sugar plums through my head that I drove with my wife to the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale Christmas Concert last Saturday night. I knew better than to hope I wouldn't fall asleep, but I did hope I wouldn't snore. I was familiar enough with culture by then to know snoring was a definite faux pas.

I should not have been surprised, for I have matured some since fourth grade, but far from being hypnotized into sleep by the music, I was mesmerized. I give full credit to Peter Dabrowski and Christopher Munn, the conductors, and the men and women of the orchestra and chorale for my complete enchantment that evening.

Some highlights for those unfortunates who stayed home to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for the tenth time:

• The moments when conductor Dabrowski, not content to allow the audience to passively listen, turned to face us and share an interesting historical or aesthetic tidbit about the piece the orchestra was about to play, thus engaging the audience with the music.

• The Ballet Folklorico UT Pan American, another Valley treasure.

• Every piece after the intermission, when the symphony shifted from well-known and popular Christmas music to lively, often whimsical, classical pieces that showed off the proficiency of the symphony and the chorale, as well as brought a smidgen of culture — something my mother would appreciate — to those of us who came to hear Christmas carols.

• Joining the audience as we came to our feet during the "Hallelujah Chorus," a tradition that dates back to 1742 when King George II stood at the first note, prompting everyone else in the audience to join him. (Apparently one is not allowed to sit when the king is standing.)

I'm convinced that much of the energy and excitement that comes from VSO concerts is due to the makeup of the symphony itself. Though some members are professional musicians, many are not. Two examples should suffice: Linda Sobin-Reed, viola, is a Speech Language Pathologist, and Angelli Gomez, violin, is a pre-med student at UTPA. There are many more like them, professionals, students, local high school music teachers, musicians all, whose love of music compels them to devote the time and energy necessary for such heartfelt and professional concerts as the one I heard Saturday night. (A word to local businesses: some of these excellent musicians are still awaiting underwriting for the woefully inadequate stipends they receive for their dedication to music and to Valley culture.)

If I were going to ask Santa for one gift (something I haven't done since the fourth grade; asked for a bicycle; got coal, which I mistakenly thought was a myth), it would be for a larger hall than the McAllen Civic Center so more people could discover what a jewel we have in the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale.