Atarah Ben-Tovim, who died at the age of 82, was a gifted orchestral flautist whose irrepressible personality was best seen through the countless children’s concerts she presented in the 1970s and 1980s.
Long before education departments and outreach teams became fashionable, Atarah Ben-Tovim took his fellow musicians, known as Atarah’s Band, to schools in the North West of England; one of the young people she inspired was a young Simon Rattle, the future conductor.
A flamboyant character with bright clothes, bright blue eyes and a mop of blonde hair, Atarah Ben-Tovim described wanting to shift children’s performances from the “backs and short sides” of Malcolm Sargent’s post-war fare. Its concerts, aimed at families and in particular children aged 4 to 14, drew on a rich repertoire and aimed to make Beethoven fun and Paganini exciting.
A “musical menagerie” for example, which she presented in 2001 at Birmingham Symphony Hall with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Boughton, included music inspired by animals, from Strauss’ waltzing bat to the thieving magpie of Rossini and the busy drone of Rimsky-Korsakov.
She insisted that young children didn’t care what kind of music was presented. “It’s when they reach adolescence, which these days is likely to continue into 40, that peer pressure persuades them that classical music isn’t cool,” she said. said, adding that she didn’t want to fall into the trap of just regurgitating. Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev and Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns again and again.
Radio 3 made programs featuring his work and Atarah’s Band appeared on TV shows ranging from Omnibus to Blue Peter and Pebble Mill at One. In 1982 she had her own series, Atarah’s Music, on Granada Television, introducing children to one instrument per episode. The following year his band took part in the Schools Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.
Even their vinyl records were fun, with one side called “the kids’ side” and the other “the moms and dads side”, eschewing the convention of sides one and two. At first, however, some members of the music establishment disapproved of his unorthodox approach, and even the title “fun gig for kids” worried some, who feared the word “fun” would diminish the seriousness of their craft.
Still, the Atarah Ben-Tovim concerts were undoubtedly fun, featuring performers dressed as Wombles and encouraging little children to use crockery and cutlery as percussion accompaniment. Sometimes a scarecrow played a trombone, a golden creature from outer space banged the drums, or a huge teddy bear blew a trumpet. “If, while having fun, the children discover a little how to play an instrument or simply take an interest in music, then the concert was a success”, she concluded.