Every Kid a Mozart?

The children fell asleep in the car and my hand automatically moved to turn off the radio. Finally, with no protests from the backseat, I could listen to the classical music CD. Occasionally, I also allowed myself to hum. Small comfort when you hate driving, but then, when the traffic started getting bad, the sound track no longer fit and I began hastily switching stations. "Why did you change it?" complained a little sleepy voice from the backseat. "I want Mozart."

Why, actually, do we tend to think that today's children don't connect with classical music? Many musicologists working in music education say it is adults who create the barriers separating us from more complex music, while children, especially young ones, are naturally open to absorbing diverse tones. Nevertheless, most classical-music productions geared toward children try to camouflage the bitter pill using gimmicks such as exaggerated theatricality.

There is no dispute over the importance of classical music for children, from a cultural and cognitive perspective. One study on the subject even suggests that it is worthwhile playing classical music to children still in the womb. Conductor Gil Shochat, the artistic director of the Sounds of Childhood (Tzlilei Yaldut) festival scheduled for Sukkot (October 15-19) at the Holon Theater, is convinced that concert music is very relevant for today's children.

"At a time that advocates speed in the bad sense of the word, of superficiality, of the outer shell and not the content, we should enable children to absorb music's cultural values that depend on investing time, attention and effort," he says. For delicate pieces to touch children's hearts, they should be presented "in a communicative way to parents and the entire family."

It seems Sounds of Childhood will implement this approach. In addition to theater and dance performances, it will feature classical music performances by dancers and actors working together. Most notable is the original production "Peter and the Wolf Play Games with Tal Moseri," a star of the Children's Channel.

Out of the ivory tower

Shochat rejects the charge that the festival has been commercialized. He says he ruled out another actor for the role of narrator, while Moseri is a wonderful actor and very musical. "The festival is moving the music out of the ivory tower," adds Shochat. "It's not that we are just bringing in the king of the Children's Channel. There is content here that is music. As far as I'm concerned, all means are acceptable."

They chose to play it safe even for the festival's gala concert; the Ra'anana Symphonette will perform Grieg's "Pier Gynt," with Shochat conducting, while Smadar Shir, a well-known name in the children's world, will narrate. "The noble souls will forgive me," says David Zava, responsible for the Symphonette's educational and musical program as house conductor. "We are the ones on the battlefield. I have already conducted concerts for children that had no narration, and it turned into a pogrom."

He feels that there is nothing wrong with using gimmicks in concerts, but the goal is to get children to more serious performances. "The threshold for stimulating children has taken such a beating in recent years that you have to gradually get them used to something different."

But it is possible that children are not the only ones to blame. According to Zava, teachers themselves often talk and send text messages in the middle of a concert. Perhaps that's why in the Philharmonic Orchestra's KeyNote program in Tel Aviv-area schools, the Philharmonic works together with teachers. Duchi Lichtenstein, a musicologist from Levinsky College of Education's music school and the program's artistic director, says alienation from classical music is a cultural issue that spans all ages.

"The whole classical tradition that existed in Europe is gradually falling apart; classical music is no longer in our day-to-day lives," she says. "It's formal. And the question is how can we create an appetite for this music, despite the entertainment alternative that tends to take control of our lives."

For Lichtenstein, the problem relates to all music that is a little complex, from Yoni Rechter's "The Sixteenth Lamb" to jazz and world music; in other words, all music that "requires analysis and needs quiet and attention," she says.

"After all, children today need action all the time, and when there is no tolerance and patience, it's hard to relate to it. To make it part of children's lives, you have to build a memory created by a series of repeated listenings. And that requires investment."

In the Philharmonic's program - only one of the music education programs offered by Israeli orchestras - children from more than 50 schools in the Tel Aviv and Jezreel Valley areas encounter various music formats in the classroom. They also attend two concerts a year.

But Lichtenstein is worried because music studies have in recent years been disappearing from most school curriculums. Shochat also says it is not enough to take children to concert halls and that "music studies should be returned to the curriculum of required courses."