Taking a trendy yesteryear adjectival leaf out of the lingo of the day, the epithet “fab” easily springs to mind on visiting The Beatles exhibition currently in full delightful flow at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon. The exhibition, which goes by the name “The Magical Mystery Tour,” is everything you could hope for from a visual, aural and tactile display of memorabilia and cleverly crafted accessories devoted to the world’s most famous pop group.
The tour starts out with a short movie that gets you in the mood.
It conveys the spirit and sounds of the Fab Four and the zeitgeist of 1960s Britain through subtle musical editing and interweaving animation with real-life film footage. The movie takes you on a whistle stop tour of the band’s evolution – personally and musically. You follow the temporally brief, but conceptually expansive, continuum from the early rock ‘n’ roll monochrome days of matching suits and babyfaced smiles through to the psychedelically scented polychromatic hippie era of long hair and substance-affected creativity. Not that the latter is alluded to in the film per se.
“This is designed to get everyone on board – people who are into The Beatles and people who have no idea about them,” explains exhibition director Tali Shemer.”
It is a bit difficult to believe there is anyone on the planet who is unaware of The Beatles, but perhaps that is my Western cultural upbringing coming into play.
“There are some people who don’t know about them,” she continues. “But whether the visitors know about them or not, they still leave the exhibition with an enriching experience and lots of knowledge.”
She and museum content manager Tal Rubinstein put a lot of effort into getting the project off the ground.
“We worked on this for two years,” she notes.
The exhibition venture, to paraphrase a certain Beatles number, got by with a little help from a generous friend. Just when Shemer was about to give up on the dream, Russian-born Israeli businessman and philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin came into the frame and picked up the tab.
“That really saved us,” says Shemer. “We thought this was all going to remain just a great idea we had, until Leonid came along.”
”For my generation, the music of The Beatles and The Beatles themselves were the basic values,” says 57-year-old Nevzlin. “The Beatles were a symbol of freedom, creativity and love. That was why it was so important for me to convey my love and admiration to my children and to the children of Israel.”
The exhibition is designed for all comers aged five to 99. As someone who tends to the upper end of that age spectrum, I can vouch for its appeal. Mind you, I did get some of The Beatles vibe of the era back in 1960s northern Britain, but “The Magical Mystery Tour” is so well devised, it could probably get a Martian into the Fab Four groove.
There is much to marvel at visually, but there is also plenty to get into in the hands-on sense. How many of us have ever been to a recording studio? How many of us have, for example, ever seen a sitar, let alone touched one? That can be experienced firsthand in the “studio” incorporated in the Holon layout. It includes a drum kit, electric guitars, a violin-shaped bass guitar, similar to the famous Hofner model used by Paul McCartney, and a sitar that George Harrison brought to The Beatles’ musical modus operandi in the mid-1960s.
The staged facility is accessed via a corridor with faux red brick walls, adorned with a slew of black-andwhite prints of the group members and some of their professional colleagues, with the sign “Abbey Road” on one side. And if having actual musical instruments within hand’s reach weren’t enough, there is a huge 24-track mixer console on the other side of the studio window.
Visitors can move the volume knobs (faders) up and down to get an idea of how the recording engineer plays around with the individual instrumental lines. Fancy hearing how McCartney played his bass part? No problem. Want to add some backing vocals and maybe Ringo’s drumming? Just move all the faders to zero, and then push up the respective buttons to the volume you want.
There is plenty in the way of historical facts on offer as well, to get the visitor into the right place in the 20th century commercial music timeline. One room is full of archival photographs, milestones in the group’s evolution across the years, from 1962 through to 1970, when the Fab Four, for all intents and purposes, broke up. The visual esthetics are greatly enhanced by some evocative garb, including the sumptuous threads worn by McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr for the iconic cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band
album, which came out in 1967.
The accent on “The Magical Mystery Tour” is very much on getting stuck in. There are interactive slots right across the board, including a general knowledge quiz about the four Beatles, and kids can actually get up close to a record player.
“When they get here, the guide asks the children how they listen to music,” Shemer explains, “on their cell phone, on YouTube or iPad.
Then the guide shows them how people once listened to music and puts the [Beatles] LP on.”
There is also a room where kids, and parents and grandparents, can don Beatles suits from the early days or from the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper style coats, getting on a stage and “play” a Beatles song.
The “gig” is videoed against a green screen backdrop, unbeknown to the performers, who later get to see themselves in action.
Naturally, the visitors get to hear lots of Fab Four sounds as they make their way through the exhibition, which culminates with a lovely creative activity. The last room has a large screen on one wall and a number of stations with small screens and headphones.
“We took clips of people from all over the world of all ages playing ‘All You Need Is Love’ – we asked their permission to use them – and kids can take excerpts from each version and put together their own clip of the whole song,” says Shemer. “You can see how music – and the music of The Beatles – connects people from all kinds of cultures.”
It also helps Israelis of all ages to bond with each other and with the timeless music of the Fab Four.‘The Magical Mystery Tour’ exhibition is on display at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon. For more information: (03) 650-3000 and www.childrensmuseum.org.il