Respecting the visual age

If you want to get kids to appreciate classical music, says Nitza Shaul, you have to show it to them.

nitza shaul 248.88 (photo credit: Ziv Ben)
nitza shaul 248.88
(photo credit: Ziv Ben)
It always starts from the music, says Nitza Shaul, "like with Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, or Stravinsky's ballets, and we go from there." She is talking about Tzlilei Kessem (Sounds of Magic), her live, mostly classical, music series for children. Now in its 12th year, the program is also built around the composers' childhoods, "because the lives of children speak to other children." This month, from February 24-26, it's Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in Snow, Little People and White Nights that focuses on his music, and also on the Norse legends that hover on the edges of reality in countries where night and day each last for months. Other programs this season include the childhoods and music of Brahms and Mendelssohn, and Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis. Besides Shaul, the shows feature dancers, musicians, actors, colorful costumes and more. "It's an intensely visual experience," she says. "This is a visual age and we have to respect that." From its beginning, the series has been immensely popular, and now "the children that were are bring their little brothers and sisters." It all started back in the 1980s when Shaul was still living and working in England and her two daughters were young. She created classical music video cassettes called Do-Re-Mi-Po for them (and for the local market) that were produced on visits here. Later, after she and the family came home in '93, she created Musikef for the kids on Channel 2 and a program for adults called At the Tip of the Baton, so when she approached Hannah Munitz at the Israel Opera in '97 with the idea for Tzlilei Kessem, Munitz readily agreed. When she creates any given show on a composer's childhood, "I look for its human aspect," explains Shaul. "The family relationships, what made him happy or sad, what he loved or hated. I want the children to have an experience that will make them into cultural fans, to give them a little golden key to the world of beauty." Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Shaul was drawn to the stage from the word go. Her husband is conductor Doron Solomon. The two met while serving in the Central Command IDF troupe, "and we've never been apart since." After the IDF, both got scholarships, she to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Drama Center and he to the Royal College of Music in London. Shaul's first West End appearance was opposite Pierce Brosnan - both had small parts in Tennessee Williams's last play, The Red Devil Battery Sign, about the Kennedy assassination. She worked on TV both in the UK and Germany as well as appearing in Israeli films such as Hashoter Azulai (Azulai the Policeman) and Giva 24 Eina Ona (Hill 24 Doesn't Answer), and more recently, numerous local TV series such as Ugly Esti and Dancing with the Stars. But Tzlilei Kessem is wholly hers, from start to finish. She writes, edits, directs and narrates the show. "I've had great luck in life," she says, "doing what I love, meeting great artists along the way. [When I came back] I kept hearing 'there's no culture, we have to do something.' So one day I decided I would, and went at it like a bull-terrier. So I've created these series that give me such great joy, such cultural riches; I've motivated my fellow artists, and drawn in thousands to see what I've made." There are six books too, "so far," says Shaul.