Sound Box / Getting kids in the hall
At the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra began tuning its instruments, the audience drew gradually quiet, and in the silence that was created between the last instrument being tuned and the arrival of the conductor on the stage, I heard my son, who was sitting next to me, say, "one thing's for sure, Dad - here I won't run into my friends from school."
That was about four years ago, when he was 9 years old. As the conductor went onto the stage then, I managed to steal a glance quickly round me, up and down the auditorium, along its length and breadth, in order to make sure. He was right. There was not a single boy under the age of 14 in the hall.
That is a shame. Many people wonder how it is possible to inculcate their children with sensitivity and taste, and eventually also a love of classical music and of deep and complex artistic music in general. They are aware of the lack of such music in their children's world and do not know how to alter that.
The schools are helpless. No one has the patience to listen to discs at home or watch music programs on the television; it is impossible to fight street culture, friends, or iPod driven pop culture.
And so, sadly, children's ability to garner the required concentration and the feelings and intellect necessary for an artistic experience are simply not there.
There was one solution, I myself learned, and it was my good fortune that I earn money from being a music critic because it was to take the child to live concerts.
Discs do not help. It is a waste of time to brainwash a child by playing music at home. The attempt to exchange the garbage on TV for a concert on the Mezzo channel in which Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the 1970s, is futile. The very sound of violins coming from some speaker in the house causes a child to recoil as does the sight of a musician with a bow on television.
But the sight of a person playing the violin, and certainly of 20 people doing so simultaneously, in a brightly lit hall with the sounds reverberating, and where there is an atmosphere of excitement and festivity - that is an amazing experience for children. And if there are also giant contrabass instruments and the sound of trombones, and a little triangle that tinkles and silver flutes, and a woman in an elegant dress playing a harp, then that is unforgettable.
This is how it works: You start as early as age 5, when children are still happy to go somewhere with their parents.
There are no rules as to what kind of music although it is probably worthwhile to think twice before taking them to a Mahler symphony or one by Bruckner, or to an opera by Wagner (if one were to be staged here). But anything else - chamber music by Beethoven, a Rossini opera, avant garde by Pierre Blais, a Renaissance mass in a church in Abu Ghosh or Haifa, a Chopin piano recital - goes.
There are only three rules that must not be broken. You must sit only in good seats, you must not let the child stay for the second half of the concert, and at home you must genuinely interest yourself in the musical styles that the child likes and share his experiences as well.
The question is how one pays for this education when a ticket to a regular concert can cost NIS 80 to NIS 150, and NIS 350 for the really good ones.
A brilliant solution has been provided by the Tel Aviv series "Stricker at Enav." It offers excellent chamber music concerts and people under 21 get in free. A ticket for someone up to 34 - the age of the director of the series, Raz Binyamini - costs a mere NIS 35.
Unfortunately there are not too many bodies that think of the long run like Binyamini. The orchestras and concert organizers complain that the human resources to form future audiences are diminishing all the time and they justifiably point to the collapse of state musical education as the chief cause, but they do not take the most elementary step to solve this, like opening their doors to children and making it easier for the parents to bear the brunt of the price of the tickets.
What could be simpler than a buy-one-get-one-free deal, or a discount for bringing children?
In his book, "The Descent of Man", Charles Darwin writes that since the enjoyment of music is not necessary at all for man's existence, this can be considered one of the most mysterious qualities that man is blessed with.
Darwin was aware of the musical experience from home.
His wife, Emma, was a gifted pianist and a pupil of the legendary Frederic Chopin. She would play for him often, which apparently led to his wonder how it was that all the urges and desires of man, both intellectual and physical, were completely obvious because they served to help him survive, except for music.
If that was so, how was it that music had become a universal endeavor that had been nurtured in all cultures since their inception?
The answer to this was proffered by scientists from centuries before Darwin - Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.E. gathered that the stars produced sounds as they traveled in their orbits like any body that moves, and therefore they played "the music of the spheres."
Boethius of the sixth century C.E. also spoke about "musica mundana", the music of the heavens, and claimed that there was also "musica humana" that was the music created by the body of everyone of us.
That was what Darwin missed - that everything is music, everything that has a pulse, and everything that exists in cyclic form, and everything that produces a sound.
Rhythm and sounds are the substance of mankind and therefore he yearns to make a connection between them and to express them, and through them to express himself.
The Elm Park Underground station in the borough of Wavering, the most easterly of London's 32 boroughs, plays an important part in the history of the British capital. Because of it and the two neighboring stations on the District Line of the Underground, this distant industrial suburb began undergoing rehabilitation during the 1920s.
The swift connection to the center of London over the years made a big contribution toward improving the lives of the downtrodden residents there, who currently number a quarter of a million. But they have had difficulty getting rid of the violence and until now it has been concentrated in the Elm Park station. Gangs of youths assaulted passengers and workers at the station and train drivers were afraid of stopping there.
The management of the London Underground, in desperation, decided as a last resort to try the system that originated in the 1990s at a train station in Montreal and later, in the early 21st century, at the central train stations in Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
They began to broadcast classical music on loudspeakers to "cut down crime and anti-social behavior" as the plan phrased it. In Holland and Denmark the program was successful; the beggars, the homeless, the drifters, and all kinds of other dubious types in the eyes of normative society, began leaving the stations in droves as they were forced to listen to Mozart and Beethoven.
The result was particularly dramatic in Copenhagen because the drug trade of the city had had its headquarters in the train station and it was only thanks to the music that the dealers fled, ending the unfortunate phenomenon.
Therefore, in 2003, the London transportation company also introduced a hidden sound system and speakers in different parts of the Elm Park station and a special classical DJ was hired to prepare the set list. People coming to the station were suddenly welcomed by the sounds of Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" and "An Alpine Symphony" by Richard Strauss, as well as arias from Italian operas sung by Luciano Pavarotti.
The Elm Park program was diverse and included baroque and classical romantic music, such as Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, as well as works by Handel, Rachmaninoff, Bach and Brahms.
Day after day, from morning to night, the passengers were forced to hear the music. Later, a survey that was carried out among them showed that their mood had improved with time and that they had become calmer.
And what happened to the gang members? They began disappearing from the area. Within a year and a half of the start of the project the number of robberies had been cut down by one third, The Independent reported. Vandalism plummeted by 37 percent and the number of assaults on workers at the station was cut by a quarter.
At first it seems that we have here before us yet another proof of the mystical strength of this pure art form that is classical music and the connection between it and the lofty aspects of man. If that is so, why does this story nevertheless leave us with a bad taste?
Perhaps because there is something unnatural about using something good as a weapon. Perhaps because instead of being inclusive and unifying, as it naturally is, the music is used here as a tool for sharpening individual and cultural differences and creating a barrier between people.
Or perhaps because one's thoughts stray particularly to those violent robbers, and to those who vandalize property and deal in drugs, who have disappeared somewhere, someplace, certainly without returning to the straight and narrow.
One cannot help wondering what their fate would have been if they too had been lucky enough, like the passengers on the train, to have the conditions in life under which classical music would have penetrated their hearts.