Thursday, June 26, 2008

Robert Mayer's Recipe For Getting Kids Into Classical Music

In 1961 or ’62 when I was ten, or eleven, I went from school in Surrey to the Royal Festival Hall, every Saturday morning for two months ,to attend the Robert Mayer Children’s concerts. These had started, so I now find out through the magic of google, in 1923. The idea behind them was very simple - to introduce children to classical music through accessible pieces of music played by a full symphony orchestra. Each programme was, from memory, made up of a number of pieces, usually no longer than about ten to fifteen minutes long. Before the orchestra played the conductor would talk about the particular piece, put it in context, tell us the kind of things to listen out for and particularly what to look for as the audience played. We always sat in the same places and our school had seats in the choir stalls, off to stage right so I had a wonderful view of an orchestra up close.

This exposure to classical music changed my life. While we played classical gramophone records at home there was nothing as exciting as seeing this music played live. I was hooked from then on. Pieces of music I heard at these concerts are still firm favourites, but it was the opportunity that these Saturday trips to the Festival Hall gave me to begin to understand and then explore classical music that was so important.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful now that if instead of giving subsidies to some of the more established ‘arts’ that government money was put into a concert series like this in Scotland? With the Usher Hall being refurbished how good would it be to inaugurate a series of Saturday school's concerts, so that children could be brought into the world of classical music. Show them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, to let them think it’s perfectly normal and not in any way elitist to go to go to a symphony orchestra concert.


Richard Evans said...

You were very fortunate to have been taken to those concerts, Richard and to be exposed to classical music so early in your life.

My first recollections of hearing classical music was of gramophone records being played before and after morning prayers in school. At the time I was more interested in Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran but nevertheless something sunk in. Many years later I hummed a tune I'd remembered to my friend, the actor Nicholas Ball, a huge RVW fan, and said "I've been trying for over thirty years to figure out what this tune is. Any idea?" He recognised it straight away - it was The Wasps, Aristophanic Suite.

Since then I've collected pretty much everything that VW wrote and in turn have discovered Holst, Delius, Butterworth, Bax, Elgar and recently the wonderful Herbert Howells. And that's just the English composers!

I'm with you on this. Encourage more children to discover this genre of the arts. Who knows, if they only remember one snippet of a tune, as I did, it's one hell of beginning and so well worth it. And you know what? I never differentiate between classical and the 'other' stuff. One minute it's RVW on the player and the next, er, . . . Terry Reid.

r morris said...

This is a superb idea and an excellent way to use government funds. It's too bad a program like this can't be run everywhere.
A similiar attempt to bring cultural awareness to the masses--especially in rural and isolated areas, was begun in the US back shortly before and after the turn of the 20th century. This was called the Chatauqua Movement. You can read about it on Wike at

The only way many people will ever be exposed to the joys of music, drama, art or philosophy is if an effort is made to bring it to them. A nation without cultural education is the poorer for it.

Hope that Scotland does something with this. Maybe you can get them moving on it, Richard.

My parents got me into music, from listening to old Glenn Miller records as well as classical. But not everybody has parents willing to take the time and effort.

Mikey said...

I too, used to attend these Concerts and I put my life-long love of classical music entirely down to Robert Mayer !