Articles

BIG MUSIC For Small People

when Eugene kash goes on-stage at the Ottawa Children's Concert he takes the kids into the fairyland of good music and makes them yell for more. when he lets them hit the drum comics and cowboys have to take a back seat to Bach

JAMES DUGAN February 15 1951
Articles

BIG MUSIC For Small People

when Eugene kash goes on-stage at the Ottawa Children's Concert he takes the kids into the fairyland of good music and makes them yell for more. when he lets them hit the drum comics and cowboys have to take a back seat to Bach

JAMES DUGAN February 15 1951

BIG MUSIC For Small People

JAMES DUGAN

EVERY winter in the auditorium of the Technical High School in Ottawa a muscular young man with a puckish grin and hig square hands walks on-stage before a thousand children and proceeds to take apart a symphony ensemble and throw it at the audience, piece by piece. The kids love it, the adult musicians come back for more, and the strong man, Eugene Rash, is get t ing world-wide attention for his unique afternoons with great music the Ottawa Children’s Concerts.

Rash does not actually heave the bassoonist into the 10th row, Hut, he has broken through the curtain between audience and orchestra and made his podium an open door to music. Everybody gets into the act.

The solemn symphony musicians get up, one by one, dismantle their instruments for the kids, and put. them together to play the distinctive sounds of the French horn or tuba. It’s as fascinating as aircraft recognition for a small person who has fallen for the cello and can follow its individual flight with his ear.

Rash exchanges jests with the youngsters and encourages interpolations from them. He brings on dancers and musicians their own age, leads the crowd in singing “Row Row Row Your Boat,” and when the big show is over everybody is invited on-stage to get a good look at the instruments.

There are notable practical results after four years of children’s concerts. William Amtmann, who directs violin classes in the Ottawa public schools, reports that his 27 pupils increased to 90 in two years. Most of the newcomers were patrons of Rash’s concerts. Ottawa kids are blossoming as composers and performers. Other cities are starting juvenile concerts on the Ottawa model.

The concerts are not feasts of Mickey Mouse music for tiny toddlers. Rash’s programs are meaty enough for the average adult audience and much more mature than the “pop” concert bills. Last year Rash polled his kids to name a request program. Nobody mentioned “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The heaviest vote was for Bach’s “Little Fugue in G Minor.” The audience is aged six to 16.

An Ottawa father recently complained, “The kids should have it so good ! The wife made me take our seven-year-old Sandra to one of Rash’s concerts. I was figuring on how to duck out for a beer. Rash came out, without wearing evening clothes, and started to gag back and forth with the

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when Eugene kash goes on-stage at the Ottawa Children's Concert he takes the kids into the fairyland of good music and makes them yell for more. when he lets them hit the drum comics and cowboys have to take a back seat to Bach

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kids. The musicians came out and Kash had them play, one by one. Then they all played together and the first thing I knew I was listening to Mozart. Somebody should put this on for adults.”

The concertgoers are ordinary kids with a quarter to spend on Saturday afternoon, and the way they press into the concerts has downtown movie managers wishing Gene Autry would shoot Kash. Small boys, setting out for an afternoon of western adventure with their pearl - handled revolvers, wind up standing on the seats helping Kash to lead the orchestra. One boy with an afternoon paper route hires an uncultured substitute on concert days.

His Violin is Second hand

Kash, who is also a concert violinist, gets out his trusty Guadagnini fiddle and knocks off Paganini’s “24th Caprice,” a virtuoso test. As the boys’ eyes glaze trying to follow bis fingers he leaves the impression that fiddleplaying takes as much fancy stuff as a one-hand dribble through the opposing basketball team.

After one concert Kash was approached backstage by a youthful committee which requested him to play the “Flight of the Humble Bee” so they could see the finger and bow work close up. The maestro said, “Aw. Harry James can play it better.” They insisted, “Please play it.” Kash tucked his fiddle under bis jaw and gave it everything, the sort of effort the CBC pays him a plump fee to deliver.

A boy asked, “Where did you gel the violin?” Kash explained that it was made in Milan in 1753 by Jean Baptiste Guadagnini. “Did you buy it, or get it secondhand?” asked another lad who doubted that Kash was 197 years old. The fiddler confessed, “1 bought if secondhand.”

“How much was it?” they wanted to know. Kash, who dislikes putting price tags on music appreciation, said evasively, “A lot.” The kids crowded him with, “How much, Mr. Kash?” The conductor said, “Oh, five thousand dollars.”

A schoolteacher later showed Kash some essays the boys had turned in about their backstage interview. One wrote: “Mr. Kash played the ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ so fast you couldn’t see his fingers.” Another said, “Mr. Kash’s secondhand violin is so valuable you could buy two new Buicks with it.”

Kash commented, “I shouldn’t have mentioned the price. It knocked the musical idea out of that boy’s head.”

Kash began his lively musical course in 1946 with concerts explaining the origins of percussion instruments, wind instruments and strings. An infant rhythm band and Indian tom-toms made the point about the drums, and the origins of melody turned out to be sucb homely sounds as kids imitating cries of newsboys, a train announcer and a pushcart vegetable man.

Dr. Marius Barbeau, a folk-lore expert, volunteered to help put the children on the trail of music in another concert. Kash asked the crowd, “Who were the first, people in Canada?” T hey yelled. “The Indians.” That led to Dr. Barbeau s dramatic entrance down the aisle from the rear, beating an Indian tambourine and chanting a native song-story. He advanced to the stage and chanted the story of the “Hunter and the Bear,” while young pupils of Mrs. Brenda Beament’s eurythmie classes interpreted the legend.

At the next concert three months

later Kash was unfolding a musical revelation when he noticed a threeyear-old girl break out of her seat and climb onstage. Kash baited his patter and asked her what cooked. The kid was jigging with anticipation. She said. “Is the bear going to dance today?” Kash decided that individuals under six are a little too single-minded to march steadily through music with their elders, and he exiled the nursery crowd. Now you have to be all of six to get in and dig Beethoven.

Kash keeps the bouse lights on during the concerts, so that there is no psychological separation of players and audience. He finds that small boys who are allowed to come onstage afterward and take a whack at the i kettle drum are surefire converts to music.

When the kids see each instrument j singled out for its own demonstration they adopt favorite instruments, and listen for the sound of their special one during ensemble playing. As any musician will tell you, this is first-class ear training and leads to analytical listening. The Ottawa kids do not overhear music, which so many of us do on the radio they listen. Kash found that recorded music, even the best, passed through their ears unlistened to while the live performance lodged in their minds. Two little girls were overheard during a concert. One said, “I like the oboe best,” while her companion said, “Moi, je prefine Ia /Iule.”

An eight-year-old boy lost his heart to the big golden harp. He went home and unbolted his, treasured Meccano bridge and constructed a harp. He brought it to Kash, who noted that it had no strings. Kash stretched a rubber band over the harp. The boy straddled it, crooked his bead the way he had seen the professional do, and twanged a mighty buzzing B flat. “Proudest musician you ever saw,” says Kash.

A Soda Straw Symphony

Kash restrains himself from baby talk and patting little heads. The kids demand a straight approach and resent patronizing attitudes. In an early concert Kash was giving them the inside dope on woodwinds, explaining how the flute, oboe and bassoon evolved from wooden whistles. A kid leaped up in the audience and declared that he had whittled a whistle. Kash invited him to come onstage and exhibit his work. Kash examined it and said, “Hmmm, basswood.” The boy gave an eloquent smirk to the audience, conveying the idea that Kash was a know-it-all, seized the whistle and issued a blast that shivered the windows. The conductor then gave a I somewhat lame solo on the shepherd’s | pipes to illumine the next stage in the upward march of woodwinds.

Once the maestro had a brilliant idea I for demonstrating the working of the double reed in the oboe. When the J kids arrived they found a soda straw in each seat. “And now.” said Kash, “if you will just take up your straws we will see how the oboe works.” The ! youngsters held up the straws and, as j one man, it occurred to them that j straws look good sailing through the j air. The auditorium looked like a wheat field in the immediate van of a combine. Kash the Conductor stood dismayed, then Kash the Kid doubled up and howled.

In a subsequent concert the conductor tried to regain face. He presented some infants in 18th century court costume who danced a minuet to an oboe and bassoon piece by Mozart. The mob took it. big. Kash

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grinned and informed them that Mozart had written the minuet when he was six years old. It was regarded as a direct challenge to Ottawa’s younger composers. Kash began to receive original musical scores from them.

Two sisters, 10 and 11, sent him a theme which Kash turned over to the Nova Scotian composer, Eldon Rathburn. Rathburn arranged it as a march, lullaby, and two-part invention and scherzo, which was played to stormy applause at a children’s concert.

Veena Malik, nine-year-old daughter of Sardar Malik, then the Indian High Commissioner to Ottawa, also wrote a piece which Kash thought so well of that he played it as a violin solo. The concertgoers felt they had put baby Mozart in his place. This year Kash plans to jog them up with an opera Mozart wrote when he was 12.

Eight-Year-Old Concert Star

Children under 12, like most of us, have difficulty connecting history with dates. In his explanatory patter Kash avoids dates and conveys the historical sense as often as possible by presenting singers and dancers in the costume of the period. In an afternoon of English music he presented the Tudor Singers, an adult madrigal-singing group from Ottawa. The Tudors appeared in rich medieval costumes and sang unaccompanied around a table lighted with tapers. They sang the oldest recorded English song, “Sumer is Icumen In,” and the beautiful madrigal, “All Creatures Are Now Merry-Minded.” After the show, when Kash always invites the crowd onstage to inspect the instruments, the musicians were neglected. The patrons circled around the Tudor Singers, feeling their costumes.

The children’s concert is not an amateur hour starring Little Willie and his quarter-size violin in a remarkable (at least to his parents) recital of the “Bear Went Over the Mountain.” Kash doesn’t bore his audience with dub musicians of any age. At the same time he is always scouting for burgeoning talent.

Kash once caught a Junior Music Club concert at the National Museum, where he heard an eight-year-old redheaded violinist named Kenneth Scott. “He had a good bow arm,” says Kash, “and the kind of assurance that reflects talent.” Kash signed up Kenneth, in spite of the fact that the boy had been studying for only a year. Young Scott memorized the “Corelli Theme” in three weeks and played it forcefully at a children’s concert. Kash joined him and played the Fritz Kreisler variations on Tartini’s version of the theme. The older violinist says, “Kenneth repeated the theme, I did the variations, and we finished with a duet. I turned to cue him on his entrance to the duet, but he came right in on the note without prompting.”

Disk Jockeys Sell Classics

Kash schemes a great deal on how to make visible demonstrations of music history. To illustrate the evolution of the violin he borrowed a crude Chinese viol from the proprietor of the Canton restaurant in Ottawa. He sat down and taught himself to play the instrument and made a commendable tune on it for his patrons. A boy came up afterward and asked to see the Oriental fiddle. What the kid wanted to know was, “Can you play ‘Chopsticks’ on that?”

A little girl, whom Kash noticed was admiring the trombone on her visits backstage, divulged to Kash that she was making her life’s work the com-

position of a concerto for the trombone and “big bass tuba.” Some of them get a fixation on an instrument without grasping the name of it.

Kash once found an almost tearful six - year - old boy hanging around backstage as the musicians departed. “Where’s the big red thing?” he whimpered. “The long thing. I want to see the long red thing.” Kash ran outside and caught the bassoonist, who returned with the long red thing—the bassoon—and let the boy look it over.

“Kids have no preconceived notions about music,” says Kash. “Modern music is as welcome as the classics. Nobody told them that Darius Milhaud or William Walton are supposed to be difficult, radical moderns. They listen with open ears and form their own taste.”

Kash has not hesitated to play them William Walton’s satirical surrealist piece, “Facade,” although he omitted Edith Sitwell’s nonsense chant which set off a near-riot when the suite was first played in England. On the same bill of English music the children heard Gilbert and Sullivan and, as a stirring finale, Sir Edward Elgar’s imperial march, “Pomp and Circumstance.” The forty-piece Tech High band, brave strapping youths in red sweaters, marched on and sprained the architecture with Elgar’s rouser.

Kash says, “I watched the little j boys’ eyes popping out. After that none of them thought playing an instrument was for sissies.”

Kash’s all-French concert last year : demonstrates how the children’s conÍ cert committee pulls together the musi| cal resources of a community to implant so-called “deep music” in an eager kid audience. Before the concert the hard - working committee gets out posters drawn by the kids themselves. They even have classical disk jockeys to generate interest: students of Carleton College get 15 minutes on CFRA to play recorded excerpts from the program.

When Music Comes Alive

The music-minded Roman Catholic schools and the French Press support the children’s concerts as fully as the English-language Press and radio and public school officials. Kash’s work is j an outstanding example of how to break down lingering divisions between English-speaking and French-speaking Canada and between children of religious and secular schools.

The hard-working volunteer committee works this musical miracle on a fiddle string. The total budget for four concerts is about $2,000, of which the kids cover half with their quarters. Public-spirited contributors underwrite the deficit.

The Ottawa formula is clearly blueprinted for any community to follow in a National Film Board movie about the concerts. English film producer : Basil Wright, who is among the many Europeans who have admired the picture, says: “The director, Gudrun

Parker, has captured with apparent but deceptive ease the wonderment in children’s eyes when music begins to come alive.”

The maestro of music without yawns is a dark energetic bachelor, born in Toronto, where he clamped a quartersize violin under his chin at the age of five and in two years was a concert prodigy. Kash studied in Toronto and Philadelphia and spent four years studying and touring in a dozen European countries before World War II. I

As a ’concert violinist and also the conductor of the Ottawa Philharmonic, j Kash has a personality problem pecu¡ liar to professional musicians: how old should he say he is? He says, “You’ve

got to be a young violinist and old conductor to fit people’s conceptions.” Kash is under 40, hut it will be okay with him if the kids date him as an elderly 18, I lie violin fans as 21, and the Philharmonic patrons consider him a young-looking 55. He strives to please them all.

For eight years Kash was musical director of the National Film Board. He is a regular concert violinist, on CBC Wednesday Night.. Radio transcriptions of his concerts of Canadian music have been distributed in 50 foreign countries, one of the few opportunities foreigners have of finding out what goes on among Canada’s creative people.

Kash is a champion of living (’anadian composers. He has introduced compositions by Oskar Morawetz, Fldon Rathburn, Clermont Pepin, Maurice Blackburn, and Robert Fleming, among other contemporaries. Last year Paris music lovers heard Kash in two programs of Canadian and French music on the National Radio.

Kash gets around. This season lie will give violin concerts from Quebec t.o Moose Jaw and a South American tour is in the offing. The demands are heavy: four children’s concerts,

seven I hi'harmonic dates, another dozen radio concerts and personal appearances as a soloist, plus about 50 full-length rehearsals. To avoid going stale Kash is inaugurating this

season a youth concert series which will end up as dances.

One of Kash’s pals is another fellow who gets around and who has advertised Ottawa in far corners of the world — portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. Although Karsh of Ottawa is often working in the White House, No. 10 Downing Street and the Vatican he tries to be in Ottawa for an important job during the winter. Ho acts as a judge on. the children’s poster contest for the kid concerts. Last year Karsh looked at no fewer than 500 entries.

Karsh meets Kash in strange places on their rapid rambles around various countries. Recently they just missed each other at New York’s Hotel Algonquin. Kash checked out an hour before Karsh checked in. A friend called the hotel for the musician, to complain about an appointment Kash had missed. The switchboard girl connected him with Karsh, the photographer.

Karsh lifted his phone and a voice said, “You’re a stinker.” He said, “I beg your pardon. There must be some mistake. This is Yousuf Karsh.” The voice said, “Where did you pick up that phoney accent, Kash?”

Before it was unraveled the hotel management was bowing in to Karsh’s suite to apologize. Karsh said, “It’s perfectly all right, gentlemen. I understand. It was just a friend of Eugene Kash.” jç