The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Program for Music Education and Community Outreach

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Alive and Well: A Day at the Orchestra with KeyNote

Many children consider the symphony a leisure activity of days past; it conjures images of opera glasses and stodgy old composers whose names we’ve all forgotten. Why listen to music, after all, if its forebears are all extinct? If their legacy has vanished?

The answer, of course, is that classical music never did disappear, that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra keeps it alive and well. To ensure that future generations follow suit, the IPO has KeyNote, its educational outreach program. On June 11, 2009, over the course of three concerts, several esteemed composers came to life in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Ibert, and Bartok. To hundreds of children from Tel-Aviv and Jaffa, this was not a mere field trip, but rather an opportunity to inherit a cultural legacy. Of course, cultural legacy was far from the front of most children’s minds as they clapped along with the pizzicati, smiled at the excited squeals of the clarinet. Regardless, they learned that classical music is not just for grown-ups — that children, too, can have fun at the symphony.

Each concert, after the eager masses filed into the concert hall, our emcee, Hagar Rish, gave a warm welcome and introduced a chamber ensemble of ten people. Right away, our IPO musicians got to work. They began with Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro, a fitting beginning to such a lively concert; its staggering string runs, all in unison, are bound to warm up any audience.

A Day at the Orchestra with KeyNote
A Day at the Orchestra with KeyNote

After the minuet from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the children got a taste of Bach. The rondo and badinerie from Orchestral Suite No.2 were certainly crowd pleasers; the melancholy flute-violin duet kept most children fixed in their seats, their attention rapt. Many were snapped out of this trance, though, when the flautist left his seat and at once began a variation on the theme he had just played. This new melody did not wallow and lament like before, but rather flew away at a presto pace, throwing forward rapid-fire minor scales, double-tongued arpeggios, and other assorted virtuosities that careened about the concert hall. Students and teachers alike were astonished by the flute, which so resembled a bird in its sprightly step. For this reason, our emcee asked the flautist for a little advice on how to get to his level. Since she asked so politely, the audience got a quick breathing lesson. The lesson, in fact, consisted of four words: “Achat, shtayim, shalosh, breathe!” The children had a lot of fun with that one, repeating it long after the lesson had ended.

After the audience finished learning breathing basics, the French horn gave out a hunting call, thus introducing a new composer: Beethoven. When asked, the children found it a challenge to identify the French horn’s name, though they were excited to hear its fanfare. They were likewise moved by the following scherzo, which featured the soothing tones of the French horn and the clarinet. With this transition, the five wind players introduced their instruments, each adapting a unique personality: the grandfatherly bassoon, the serene oboe, the catty clarinet. They then launched into Trois pièces brèves, a woodwind quintet piece by Jacques Ibert.

Afterwards, when the IPO members began a rendition of Mi Yivneh Bayit and Gan HaShikmim, the students could finally sing along to the music being played. One could tell from the volume of the children’s voices that the concert had been successful, that the makeshift chorus was pleased with how the morning had gone. As a final encore, the IPO members played Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances. It began with a slow, traditionally Transylvanian violin melody, which grew increasingly fast as more joined in. Eventually, the sound became so loud, the rhythm so jaunty, that the whole group exploded into one final chord before ending the concert. Meanwhile, of course, the emcee donned a traditional Romanian scarf to emphasize the cultural significance of the piece.

Ultimately, after all, a trip to the symphony has a large degree of cultural significance. When children realize that they have a stake in classical music, they become more invested and keep the art alive for future generations. On a surface level, of course, the point of the concert is simple: to have fun. This concert is the second that the children have seen this year (KeyNote offers different concert cycles each semester), and they are no doubt looking forward to next year’s festivities. In the meantime, let’s hope that they whistle Bartók on the way home from the museum.

David Weinstein.

June 2009.

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