The Column: When The BBC Turned Teacher, And Got It Right

By James Inverne on Jun 18, 2014 02:02 PM EDT

So what do we think about this new initiative from the BBC, this idea to create a UK-wide scheme to introduce children to classical music through a proscribed list of "Ten Pieces"? You'd think "not much", if you browsed certain areas of the worldwide web. The classical cognoscenti, many of them, are adopting a kind of 'well yeah great but can't shake the feeling that this will be monumentally naff' attitude.

I have only one negative thing to say about this, and it's a barb not directed at the BBC. Such a grand, ambitious scheme to educate our children in classical music -- in most cases to give them their first introduction to that heady world -- it should have come from the government. Well, an introduction to classical music should come from the parents, but look at us. We're several generations away now from the 1980s, when pop music dropped its ties to classical and teachers all but stopped teaching it and today's parents grew up in that age. In other words, they aren't qualified because they are often as ill-versed in classical music as their kids (though let's not forget the millions who chill out to Classic FM). But one longs for an Education Ministry that could get something as creative and well thought-through as this together.

But OK, we British television owners all pay an obligatory license fee to the BBC and this is public service writ large (even if the broadcasting aspect feels slightly secondary here). I'm glad that my pennies are going towards this. Because Tony Hall, the BBC's Director General, late of the Royal Opera House and one of the sharpest advocates classical music has, knows from his Covent Garden days a simple, true, inaliable fact. Bring a child to hear a really stirring piece of classical music and that child will feel their imagination awaken, their emotions stir, their adrenaline pulse.

I see this with my own oldest son (the other being too young still to tell). His first encounter with classical music was at a rehearsal at the Verbier Festival and I will never forget it. It was Beethoven's Eroica Symphony -- Paavo Jarvi conducting, since you ask -- and as this toddler in my arms was hit, really hit, by the swelling sounds of the orchestra, his chest rose, his eyes widened. It was as if he was inhaling with a sudden shock, Beethoven's mighty chords.

That's why the Beeb's list of works is so cannily chosen. Each of them has something of that same force. Listen to "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" once and you cannot help but feel those creeping rhythms building inside of you for hours, perhaps days. Who would not thrill to the battering winds of the "Storm Interlude" from Peter Grimes? Children will have visceral responses to these kinds of works, so asking them to then transmute those responses to their own works of art will make them interpreters, even creators, not just receivers. To have a share in that act, in that spark, well, there is real joy for child. But more. It's a glimpse of a world.

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TagsBBC, Classical Music, music education, Verbier Festival, Paavo Jarvi, Ten Pieces, The Column

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