When the cellos play, the cows come home

LUND, Denmark – At a recent performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pezzo Capriccioso’, a handful of spectators leaned intently forward, eyes shining, a few encouraging sniffs escaping from the otherwise hushed floor. Although relatively new to classical music, they seemed to listen closely to the eight cellists on stage, raising their heads sharply as the languid tensions of the room gave way to swift bows.

When it was over, amidst fervent applause and shouts of “bravo”, a single grateful moo was heard.

On Sunday, in Lund, a village about 80 km south of Copenhagen, an elite group of cellists gave two concerts for both music-loving cows and their human counterparts. The culmination of a collaboration between two local cattle ranchers, Mogens and Louise Haugaard, and Jacob Shaw, founder of the nearby Scandinavian cello school, the concerts were intended to draw attention to the school and the young musicians who reside there. But judging by the response from the two-legged and four-legged participants, it also demonstrated how popular an initiative that brings cultural life to rural areas can be.

Until a few years ago, 32-year-old British-born Shaw had toured the world as a solo cellist, performing at sacred venues like Carnegie Hall and the Guangzhou Opera House. When he moved to Stevns (the largest municipality to which Lund belongs) and opened the Scandinavian Cello School, he soon discovered that his neighbors the Haugaards, who raise Hereford cows, were also fans of classical music. In fact, Mogens, who is also a former mayor of Stevns, sits on the board of the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra.

When the cellist, who had visited Japan, told the farmer how the Wagyu cows, renowned for being pampered in the country, were raised to produce tender beef, it didn’t take much persuasion for Mogens to adopt a part of their education for their own cattle.

Starting in November 2020, a boom box playing Mozart and other classical music in the Haugaard barn serenaded the cows daily. About once a week, Shaw and all of the resident students came to watch a live performance.

While it is not known whether their new listening habits affected the quality of the cows’ meat, the breeder noted that the animals run whenever the musicians show up and come as close as possible while they play.

“Classical music is very good for humans,” Haugaard said. “It helps us relax and the cows can tell whether we are relaxed or not. It makes sense that it makes them feel great too, but it’s not always good for the people who perform it. Shaw said he founded the Scandinavian Cello School to help young musicians prepare for the less glamorous demands of a professional career in an industry that can sometimes chew up young artists in the constant quest for the next big thing.

While touring internationally as a self-directed artist, he found himself exhausted from the work of negotiating contracts, promoting himself and incessant travel, he said in an interview. This experience – coupled with a stint as a teacher at a prestigious music academy in Barcelona – made him realize that there was a hole there that needed to be filled.

“I kept meeting some fantastic young talent who just didn’t have the tools to go out,” Shaw said. They might have great teachers to work with them on the music itself, but what was missing was “that little extra nudge,” he said, in areas like booking. concerts, competition preparation and social media management.

In its original incarnation, the Scandinavian Cello School was a traveling organization – more of a traveling training camp than an academy. But in 2018 Shaw and his girlfriend, violinist Karen Johanne Pedersen, bought a farm in Stevns and made it a permanent base for the school. Its students, who come from all over the world and are mostly between the ages of 17 and 25, stay in short-term residences during which they hone their musical and professional skills – including how to achieve a work-life balance. private.

The location helps with that. Located less than half a mile from the sea, the school also offers visiting musicians the opportunity to help out in a vegetable patch, dig in the nearby forest, fish for dinner, or just relax in a remote area of ​​the city.

This environment is part of what attracted Johannes Gray, a 23-year-old American cellist, currently living in Paris, who won the prestigious International Pablo Casals Prize in 2018. Gray first visited the Scandinavian Cello School in 2019 , then returned for the school’s first post-pandemic cohort, drawn to both career development opportunities and leisure pursuits.

“Jacob gave me advice on how to create a program and package it to make it more interesting,” Gray said. “But we’re also both extreme foodies, and we love to cook, so after a long day of practicing we can go out fishing or plan that huge feast. It’s not just about the music.

As much as the musicians benefit from the environment, this essentially agricultural region benefits from the small influx of international artists. The school receives financial support from local government and businesses. In return, the guest musicians – seven have come for the current residency – perform in schools and healthcare facilities across the region. And they play for the cows.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, Sunday’s two concerts were held outdoors, and human participation for each was limited to 35. (Both are sold out.) Among the attendees, who had the opportunity to snack burgers prepared by a local chef from the Haugaard. “Beef,” was Denmark’s Culture Minister Joy Mogensen, who noted it was the first live concert she had attended in six months.

“I have witnessed a lot of creativity in recent months,” she said in an interview. “But digital just isn’t the same. Hope this is one of the lessons we take from Corona, how much we – even the cows – regret being together for cultural events. The two species present seemed to be enjoying themselves. Before the concert, the cows were scattered across the field, munching on grass in the bright sun and suckling their newborn calves. But as the musicians, dressed in ceremonial clothes, took their places on the hay-strewn stage and began the dramatic opening bars of Danish composer Jacob Gade’s “Jalousie (Tango Tzigane”), the cows piled up towards the fence which them. separated. of the human public, and jostled for the position.

After a program comprising an arrangement of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” and a reminder of Edith Piaf’s “Hymn of Love”, the musicians were as charmed by their cattle listeners as their humans.

“It’s really nice to play for the cows,” said Gray. “We saw it in rehearsal – they really come to you. And they have preferences. Did you see how they all left at one point? They are not really Dvorak fans. “

About Brandy Perry

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