Sunday, March 28, 2010

Education projects

There is much talk about the ageing of the audiences of classical concerts. I can speak out of experience: at the concerts I am attending I see many grey and bald heads, and very few people who are not at least in middle age. As I only attend concerts with early music it is possible that the situation is better in other sections of the classical music scene. But from what I hear and read that is not really the case.

The cause of this situation may be partly financial: people under 40 probably have not enough spending power to attend concerts at a regular basis. But it is also a matter of not being acquainted with classical music. This is partly the result of the bad state of music education in schools in the Netherlands. And I wonder whether that is really different elsewhere.

Lamenting this state of affairs is one thing, trying to do something about it is quite different. Fortunately there are musicians who create and take opportunities to present themselves and the music they love to young people. Some years ago the Belgian violinist and conductor Sigiswald Kuijken performed all London symphonies by Haydn, and as part of that project he also talked about Haydn and his symphonies to young people. I heard some fragments of it on Belgian radio, and Kuijken was quite good in explaining what the music was all about.

The Holland Baroque Society also has developed some educational projects of its own. Its website says: "Children and young people in the Netherlands no longer come into contact with classical music in general, including Baroque music, as a matter of course. So Holland Baroque Society sees it as a duty to take it themselves to the schools, and in that way introduce students to the beauty of the Baroque. As with their concert series, HBS organises their educational work on a project-basis, which run parallel to the concerts. In this way they hope to impart their own enthusiasm for this music, and use their own inspiration to stimulate the children’s creativity."

They organise so-called 'Kids Only concerts'. They are presented "exclusively for those students that have taken part in the educational project, and the form and length of the concert is tailored to the age of the audience. The concert’s program revisits the material previously handled by the musicians during the lessons."

They give an example of a visit to a school where members of the orchestra gave presentations to every class with classical music in general, and music of the baroque in particular. This is an excellent example of an attempt to introduce young people to classical music.

Another ensemble has developed activities in this field. Recently a disc with German sacred music by the Swiss ensemble Gli Angeli Genève, directed by Stephan MacLeod, was released (Sony). The booklet tells us that "[as] part of its educational activities, Gli Angeli Geneve enabled secondary school students to spend an entire semester, under a pilot project, helping to organise and make all the arrangements for one of its concerts." This included scheduling, preparing contracts and organising concert tickets. "In a more musicological vein, they were introduced to musical analysis and the history of the cantata, they wrote a large portion of the notes that follow, originally for the programme to the Gli Angeli concert which took place in January 2009".

This way the ensemble extended its activities with primary-school children to older pupils. "[They] met the members of Gli Angeli Genève, in class or at rehearsal, and learned what professional life for them actually implies."

These are some examples of activities I know of which show professional musicians taking responsibility for promoting classical, and in particular early music. It would be great if others would copy their examples. Hopefully this kind of activities will result in more young people attending classical concerts in the future.

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