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Classical music to 'make people better people'

Photos from the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture's Handel-Mozart choral project, introducing New York's youth to classical music.

The LaRouche Manhattan Project has been working with classical musicians who have devoted themselves to reviving classical music amongst youth; the Manhattan Project itself runs a chorus to which they recruit people met on the streets of New York, many with no singing experience. Participation in creating something beautiful and profound is a crucial factor in uplifting both the individual and the culture as a whole, and is the only way to replace the culture of fear and despair which leaves the population open to manipulation and control by the financial oligarchy.

On 2 May, Director of the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Music, Lynn Yen, told Manhattan Project representative Dennis Speed about her New York City program: "This year we started an outreach program of bringing concert artists into the public schools, of bringing classical music to a lot more young people. What we have done thus far is to invite a number of concert artists, pianists, cellists, violinists, vocalists, and classical musicians of all kinds to come and visit these schools, where we organise for whole classrooms and, actually, for the whole school to be assembled, where the musicians present musical performances, and talk to these young people about what is music, what is classical music, what is classical culture, and what is this music that they have just played for them, followed by questions and answers. We have so far visited, or been involved in, about 43 public schools."

Describing how her group has performed in front of 17,000 young people, Yen gave an example of the response they typically receive: "We had one baritone, for example, who went to a public school, a middle school, and when we went into the school the parent coordinator said, 'You're the classical music people! I'm so excited! But I have to tell you, these kids only like hip-hop, and you might have difficulties.' But when the baritone started singing from Handel's Messiah, I believe it was the second solo, about the coming of the Prophet, there was such a look of concentration on all of the faces of these fourth and fifth graders; they were completely captivated by the music, and they were captivated for the whole presentation—the whole piece, definitely, but the whole presentation—because he introduced other music to them. They asked lots of questions. At the end, one of the kids said, 'Can you just please sing some more?'"

Photos from the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture's Handel-Mozart choral project, introducing New York's youth to classical music.

Yen explained why Handel's Messiah is a particularly accessible piece of music, including the fact that it is written in English. Handel wrote it for a benefit performance for the poor and the sick, and for debtors, and enshrined in it a message of hope for a brighter future. "There is so much violence in America. There is so much violence, for example, in the schools, in the youth population. There is so much darkness", Yen said. "What is so important about Handel's Messiah? To put it in context, as Martin Luther King once said, 'As great as are the stars in Heaven, as great as the music of Handel's Messiah, how much greater is the mind of man that contemplates these things?' That is the really important thing, because I think that Handel's Messiah celebrates the really important aspect, the divine creativity that lies in every human being; if people can come to realise that, that is essential for their own humanity. What does the Messiah talk about? It talks about love, it talks about forgiveness, it talks about peace, unity, all the things we need in America, in the world today—the elevation of all of ourselves to the idea of love." The purpose of classical music and of culture, she asserted, is to "make people better people".

The Manhattan Project also worked with two Italian opera singers on their recent visit to New York in Nov-Dec 2015: bass Alessio Magnaguagno and soprano Fausta Ciceroni. In Rome the two have staged 35 operas in schools, without government support, and now involve pupils in performances, teaching them singing from scratch.

In a 7 January interview with the chairwoman of the LaRouche movement in Italy, Liliana Gorini, the singers described how they first "teach students to listen, because a concert is not only performed by those who are on stage, but also by the audience. ... We arrange for the main characters of the planned opera to go to the participating schools to meet the students in their own environment. We explain to them what they will see and hear, and the intent of the composer and librettist. We play some of the composer's compositions ... These 'concert lessons' provided an incredible opportunity to explain to them the idea of the opera, enable them to understand the dimension of listening, answer their questions, and bring them to a higher level of participation. To have 500 young students in a theatre, listening to an opera for three hours and applauding thunderously at the end, is a great reward."

Magnaguagno and Ciceroni described a particularly fulfilling experience when they built the chorus of street urchins in a performance of Bizet's Carmen from the students at one of the schools they worked with. Two visits a week for three months produced a chorus "perfect in intonation and rhythm", and transformed the behaviour and responsibility of the young boys. On another occasion, a child who was completely mute and never allowed anyone to touch him, cried out and came up and hugged the two performers after hearing them sing.

In another proof of principle of the transformative power of classical music, the June 2016 issue of Opera News outlined the project of Francesca Zambello, artistic and general director of the Glimmerglass Festival in upper New York State, to expand her opera outreach into New York's notorious maximum security prison, Attica.

Three Glimmerglass singers performed selections from Verdi's Macbeth, with only an electric piano and no costumes, under tight security, before the couple of hundred inmates permitted to attend. It was a tremendous success from the first duet. "The spectacle of two powerful African-American men singing thunderously in Italian was greeted with hushed astonishment. These guys opened their mouths, and you could literally see jaws dropping", Zambello said. At the end of the concert, "more than half of the audience leapt to their feet for a standing ovation— and then immediately sat back down. They're not allowed to stand up and move without being told to do so", she explained.

Solomon Howard, the bass singer, told Opera News that this was "potentially the hardest audience to please, but it was one of the best audiences we've ever performed for." In the discussion period with the inmates which followed the performance, Howard told them that he had grown up around gangs in a poor Washington, DC neighbourhood. "I told them that I could have been running the streets and getting into all kinds of trouble, but music is what saved me ... It was my ticket out." The inmates applauded.

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