Soundbox / The concert is the last step
Many people remember going to classical concerts as children - concerts that eventually became known as "family concerts," or concerts at school, in the gym or a large room. Sometimes the experiences were great and unforgettable - a special musical instrument, the sounds of live music and exotic musicians.
However, these were only "experiences," an emotional occurrence lacking an intellectual aspect, pedagogical outlook or long-term thinking. And if children were disruptive - and some always are - or the teachers-monitors had tin ears for music, which often happens, the experience could become negative in the blink of an eye.
Thus a concert, invading the children's life like an alien, did not have much chance of leaving an impression. Perhaps there were a few youngsters who appreciated these irregular concerts, and perhaps they even fell in love and learned to play an instrument. For most children, however, the event was slightly bizarre and in the best case forgotten.
Therefore, this model was reworked. A new model developed in England has been adopted impressively in Israel over the past decade. According to this school of thought, a concert is the final phase. Just as one cannot leap right into an Indonesian gamelan concert or a Japanese Noh performance and expect to "enjoy" it immediately, like a rock concert, it is impossible to "enjoy" Bartok and Haydn quartets or a Bruckner symphony without preparation. This is why the KeyNote program was born.
One Monday morning last month, three musicians from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed in an ordinary Tel Aviv elementary school classroom of 30 children. Violinist Shimon Abaloviz, violist Rachel Kam and cellist Naomi Enoch played two pieces: the overture to Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie" and the symphonic poem "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Frenchman Paul Dukas.
Since the encounter was so intimate, it developed into a free conversation with the children, who had loads of questions: What does it feel like to play an instrument and to be in an orchestra? How long have the musicians been doing this? How old are the instruments?
The musicians, for their part, replied and also demonstrated their instruments' special characteristics. They are one of the three parties to the KeyNote program: the Philharmonic. The encounter was about the small concert, and to an observer it was clear that the children were already completely familiar with the works before the trio began to perform.
This is the KeyNote model's first innovation: The chamber concert music is a focus of the children's musical studies. Education Ministry authorization is needed for this, and indeed, the ministry's music inspectorate is the program's second party. This enables the teachers to teach the repertoire and the schools to host the instrumentalists.
But what is the repertoire, who determines it, and what tools do the teachers have to teach it?
Here is where the third party enters: the Music School at the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv, where some of the instructors shape the pedagogical aspect of the project. They choose the repertoire and hold training courses for the music teachers.
Thus twice a year, hundreds of classes, including more than 15,000 students in grades 1 though 6, study a comprehensive repertoire of classical works. Their teachers have received teaching materials and been shown how to use them. The children listen to the works performed live in their classrooms, by top-flight instrumentalists.
The final phase in the program is a full-scale performance. Over the course of three days last week, thousands of children came to the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv for six live Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. Twelve hundred children attended each concert, where "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "The Thieving Magpie" were played brilliantly by the internationally renowned orchestra and with minimal instruction from the conductor, Ronen Borshevsky.
Additional excitement came from the second encounter with the musicians who had visited the classrooms: There they were, in their formal clothing, drowning in the sea of the orchestra's instrumentalists, but smiling at their little friends.
The children also sang parts of "The Empty Pot" - a work inspired by a Chinese tale about a flowerpot - along with the Young Efroni Choir, the Sadot School Choir and soloist Ayalon Agami, accompanied by the orchestra and announcer Zvi Salton.
"After the last bus leaves, I breathe easily: The main thing is that it has all gone well and everyone is healthy and in one piece," says KeyNote program director Irit Rub in her small office at the Mann Auditorium.
She says the program began with 600 elementary school students and a budget of $115,000. Now the budget is $550,000, and the program has 28,000 participants, including elementary schoolers, high-schoolers and regular classroom teachers.
"I go into a high schools where the children have no connection to classical music," says Rub, "and the reactions are always negative at first: You hear music like this at my dentist's office, the children laugh, and they are disruptive. And then I say, 'You don't have to like it, but listen - it's music that has existed for 300 years and millions of people love it and pay a lot of money to hear it. How will you go out into life without being at all familiar with it?'
"My aim is to surprise them with sounds they've ever heard. I want them to say, 'Wow, we've never in our lives heard anything like this. We didn't know there are things like this, like an orchestra that plays without amplification, without electricity!'
"And at the last concert, whose theme was 'Romeo and Juliet,' they heard works by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and finally Leonard Bernstein's 'West Side Story.' Moshe Becker moderated and this was a pure concert, without pyrotechnics, without masks. And the students were stunned."
Rub says the musicians are imbued with a sense of mission - there are 75 participating in the project - and they are also well-paid for the chamber activity. Every year, the project makes a point of commissioning local work - - this time from composer Ronen Shapira - and they have lots of plans for the future.
"Every child who listens to music becomes a better person. I believe in that," she says, "and the more that is benefit. Everyone feels this. That is the meaning of culture: It isn't knowing who Mozart or Beethoven was, but rather having the entire musical experience."