Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2004 and 2007 by Fred Flaxman
Program 60
"Getting Kids into Classical"

MUSIC: William Walton: "Fanfare and Scotch Rhapsody" from Facade, Chicago Pro Musica [Reference Recordings RR-16CD, track 1] [under the following]

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide Fred Flaxman, and during the next hour we're going to explore a very difficult topic: How to Get Kids into Classical Music.

MUSIC: above piece fades out

When my children were growing up, I tried to help them discover the pleasures of classical music. I had a theory: just surround kids with the classics from conception through childhood and they will naturally grow to love it. It is one of several parental practices I stubbornly clung to against all evidence to the contrary.

I played Fauré for my daughter when she was a fetus... Enescu when she was an infant... Bartok when she was a baby... Tartini when she was a toddler... Lully when she was a little girl... Bizet as she became bigger... Paganini for her puberty and Albinoni as she reached adolescence. But that didn't stop her from preferring The Who when she was in the womb... the Beatles when she was a baby... the Grateful Dead as she grew up... and I don't know who now, since I don't know rock from reggae.

I also surrounded her with public television and important books. So, when she was a teenager, she watched soap operas on commercial TV and wouldn't have read "Survival of the Human Race" if her life depended on it.

And that's how I discovered - too late - that I was doing everything wrong. If you want to raise a child to enjoy public TV, you must never let her catch you watching it. Click past PBS as if those letters stood for Prurient Broadcasting and Sex.

If you want her to read Moby Dick, buy a copy and make sure she sees you putting it back in the family safe after taking a quick peek at its mysterious pages.

If you want your teenager to listen to classical music, firmly forbid it from ever being played in your house. That's the way to get kids to listen to Khachaturian.

As a society we've said "no" to drugs for a long time... and now it's hard to find a youngster who hasn't tried one. Likewise, we should prohibit anyone under 21 from listening to classical music. It wouldn't be long before every crack dealer would be selling Coppelia and pot heads would be turning on to Puccini.

The First Law of Adolescent Behavior is: teenagers want whatever their parents dislike, and crave that which is prohibited. So "just say no" - to classical music - and concertos will provide the high previously reserved for cocaine, and symphonies will save our society.

Seriously, I think the best way to introduce kids to classical music is to start with recordings which come closest to the music they already appreciate. The selections should be short, because children have short attention spans and the music they listen to is in short tracks, not long movements.

The music should also be loud and full of rhythm. Melody is much less important to them than it is to me and than it probably is to you.

I'm going to spend most of this hour playing examples of classical music which I think has the best hope of appealing to children. The older children are when you start to introduce them to this music, the harder it will be to succeed. Young children are very open to all kinds of music. Teenagers are almost, but not quite, hopeless. More about them, later.

But now let's start with something that very well might appeal to teenagers. It is loud. It is rhythmic. It is pulsating. It is sensual. It is modern. It is not recommended for young children, because it may scare them. It may even scare you. It is the last ten minutes from Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite. I only hope it is not too long for their attention span, but I'm sure it's about right for yours.

MUSIC: Stravinsky: excerpt from The Firebird Suite, Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue [Reference Recordings RR-70CD, track 1]

The Minnesota Orchestra was conducted by Eiji Oue on a Reference Recording in the final ten minutes of Igor Stravinsky's suite from The Firebird ballet.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to suggestions for getting kids into classical music.

I'm proposing music that gets them used to the orchestra and acoustic instruments such as the piano and the cello. There is a Cello Concerto by the Austrian composer, Friedrich Gulda, in which the first movement alternates between rock and romanticism. I think teenagers might go for it. And it's only about five minutes long. The next two movements are for the parents, and the final movement, which is a march, I think will appeal to young children. This piece was a compact discovery for me as I hope it will be for you and your children. Here are four of its five movements.

MUSIC: Gulda: Konzert für Violoncello und Blasorchester, Rundfunkorchester des Südwestfunks conducted by Klaus Arp with Martin ostertag, cellist [Amati AMI 9703/1, tracks 1, 2, 4, 5]

Four of the five movements of the Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra by the Austrian pianist/composer, Friedrich Gulda, who lived from 1930 until 2000. Martin Ostertag was the cellist. The Orchestra of Southwest German Radio was conducted by Klaus Arp. This was from an Amati compact disc recording.

My name is Fred Flaxman. The program is Compact Discoveries, and this hour is devoted to music I think might be helpful in introducing kids to classical music.

[optional break not included in total timing]

The last piece was chosen for several reasons. The first movement was a mixture of rock and romanticism I thought might appeal to teenagers. The last movement, a march, I felt might appeal to young children, and the other two movements were aimed at the parents.

In short I was hoping that this was a piece the entire family could enjoy. I was also trying to select a composition that would introduce a major instrument of the classical acoustic orchestra: the cello. And all this while presenting a work of music that I thought would be a true compact discovery for almost everyone in my audience.

Getting teenagers into classical music is a challenge, I'm the first to admit. They seem to go through a period when they are allergic to anything of quality.

When our daughter was a teenager she went through a very difficult period during which she performed poorly at school and even worse at home. My wife and I tried everything from changing schools to switching psychiatrists, but nothing seemed to make any difference. Finally, after exhausting all other possibilities, we gave up. And that worked.

She improved dramatically starting the day we decided to treat her like the family cat -- to appreciate her for what she is, love her, feed her, shelter her, hope she comes back at night, pray that she doesn't have any little ones... and not expect anything in return.

At one time or another, it seems, most teenagers go through a period when they'd rather do anything than clean up their rooms, help around the house, do their homework -- or any other kind of work, for that matter.

Before the development of psychology, their attitude would have been described as selfish, lazy and rude. Now it's more fashionable to look at their behavior as evidence of low self-esteem, inferiority complexes or, perhaps, hormonal change syndrome. But whatever you call it, dealing with teenagers ranges from difficult to impossible.

Since so many parents report the same symptoms, it occurred to me that these teenagers must be suffering from the same malady. I call it decentahumanaphobia (fear of being a decent human being), but you can call it by its common name, the Teen Disease. Consider it like the measles, mumps and chicken pox -- something that most youngsters have to go through if they don't get inoculated against it. It's just part of growing up.

The trouble with the Teen Disease is that it is mental rather than physical, and there is no known vaccination against it.

The scientist who discovers a cure for this illness will receive the everlasting gratitude of millions of parents for generations to come, and will fully deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for all the domestic squabbles which will be avoided.

Can you imagine a pill that would make your son want to do the dishes? Or an injection which would compel your teenager to hang up the telephone after no more than three minutes? Or a capsule that would make resentful youngsters appreciate the lifetime benefits of education and classical music? Or how about a syrup which would keep your daughter studying biology all weekend rather than practicing it?

I have great confidence in modern medicine's ability to come up with a cure for the Teen Disease, now that I've identified it. In the meantime, here's practical suggestion for treating the symptoms:

Since teenagers, as is well known, get along better with anyone else's parents than their own, let's set up a teenage swap system. Parents could register their problem sons and daughters with this service. For a fee of, let's say, $500, Trade-a-Teen would arrange for their troubled teenagers to live with some other parents while another teenager came to live with them.

Compared to psychiatrists' bills, Trade-a-Teen is an inexpensive way of alleviating the worst effects of a disease which could prove fatal -- to the parents, if not the teenagers.

It may be the only way.

But I digress. We were talking about how to get kids into classical music. Here's the kind of piece I think would help introduce them to the sounds of the violin and the piano. There's plenty of rhythm and not much melody, and its less than three minutes long, so it should appeal to teenagers.

MUSIC: Guido López Cavilán: En Mi Menor, Jorge Saade-Scaff, violin; Boris Cepeda, piano [Amine, Danza Ecuatoriana, Live-Expo 2000 Hannover, track 5] [2:32]

A little dance for violin and piano In C Minor by the Cuban composer, Guido López Gavilán. The violinist was Jorge Saade-Scaff; the pianist, Boris Cepeda. I've been looking for an excuse to get that little gem on the air ever since I visited Ecuador and met the violinist in this recording. He introduced me to this particular compact discovery.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to music which I hope will help get kids into classical.

In order to appreciate classical music, children need to get used to the sound of a full orchestra. The next selection should be good for that, and it should appeal to teenagers in that it is full of rhythm, loud for the most part, and short to fit their attention span. It is the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein. OK, it's not very classical, in the traditional sense of the word. But at least it's by a dead white male.

MUSIC: Leonard Bernstein: Candide Overture, Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler [RCA Victor/BMG 09026-68699-2, track 1] [4:04]

The Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler, played the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein.

Another way to get kids to appreciate the sound of a symphony orchestra is to use recordings where the orchestra is playing tunes they already know. Now I realize that kids today may consider the Beatles to be one of the three B's -- you know, Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles -- but if they've ever been in an elevator or a dentist's office, they probably recognize the tunes. And this performance of Yesterday by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel might well appeal to the more sensitive teenager.

MUSIC: Beatles: Yesterday, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Erich Kunzel [Telarc CD-80540, track 12] [3:29]

Yesterday by the Beatles, performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. If your teen likes this, the next step might be Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. If this fails to please, at least you'll enjoy it.

MUSIC: excerpt from Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Cecile Licad, pianist; Fritz Reiner, conductor [RCA Victor/BMG 09026-68638-2, track 2]

This is Fred Flaxman hoping that you have enjoyed this hour of Compact Discoveries during which we explored music to get kids into classical music. Your comments are always appreciated. You can reach me through my website,, where you'll find the script and music information for each Compact Discoveries radio program as well as a list of radio stations carrying the series.

Compact Discoveries is a production of Compact Discoveries, Inc., and a presentation of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]: This program was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts -- a great nation deserves great art; and by the Public Radio Exchange Reversioning Project. The Public Radio Exchange is at

[program ends at 57:19, total timing without optional break]
  2009 Compact Discoveries