Vi­enna was mu­sic to my chil­dren’s ears

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FAMILY TRAVEL -

When her daugh­ter lost in­ter­est in pi­ano prac­tice, Sally Peck de­cided there was only one so­lu­tion – a visit to the city of Mozart

My fam­ily’s trip to Vi­enna was de­signed to cor­rect a mis­take I’d made the pre­vi­ous year. Aged four, my daugh­ter, An­to­nia, had de­manded pi­ano lessons. She loved to sing, she said. Her favourite thing was mu­sic, she said. It would be such fun if she could sing and play at the same time, she said.

Buoyed by my hus­band’s en­thu­si­asm (“Mozart was com­pos­ing by the age of five,” he mused), I con­sulted my aunt Va­lerie, who has been a mu­si­cian, teacher and per­former for more than half a cen­tury.

Va­lerie gave clear and sage ad­vice: “If your child likes mu­sic, let them join a singing class. Don’t start lessons un­til they’re six or seven.” In­deed, Bri­tish chil­dren who study mu­si­cal in­stru­ments start, on av­er­age, at age seven-and-a-half.

I did not lis­ten to Va­lerie. Nor did Fa­ther Christ­mas, who de­liv­ered a charm­ing Thir­ties up­right pi­ano to our Lon­don flat. An­to­nia was ec­static. Her joy only in­creased when I en­gaged a pi­ano teacher. Also a choir di­rec­tor and com­poser, and in pos­ses­sion of a masters in teach­ing pi­ano (we found him on pi­an­oteach­er­scon­nect.com, which is an ex­cel­lent re­source), his is a slick oper­a­tion for a young mu­sic en­thu­si­ast: the en­gag­ing half-hour les­son is bal­anced be­tween voice and key­board work; An­to­nia was smit­ten and so was I.

Fast-for­ward a year and An­to­nia was five and just as en­thu­si­as­tic as ever – in the­ory – about mu­sic. But she wasn’t prac­tis­ing at all. She ap­proached her weekly £30 les­son in the man­ner of a per­son pass­ing a street per­former (this is amus­ing; this re­quires no ef­fort from me). This at­ti­tude was be­gin­ning to irk my hus­band.

Then I thought of Mozart. The world’s most fa­mous child prodigy may have died 226 years ago, but he’s alive and om­nipresent in Vi­enna. I know this be­cause I lived in the Aus­trian cap­i­tal for half a year when I was a child, on a school ex­change. In the mid-Nineties, a few things struck me about Vi­enna: the hazel­nut cakes were su­perla­tive; the con­vivial at­mos­phere of the heuri­gen (folksy wine bars) un­beat­able; Klimt, whose work I’d never seen be­fore, was ab­so­lutely ev­ery­where. But most strik­ing was this: in a city not un­fa­mil­iar with snob­bish­ness, mu­sic was for every­one. My fel­low teens – cool and oth­er­wise – went to clas­si­cal con­certs for fun.

In France, chil­dren are ex­pected to turn up at the ta­ble at meal­times to eat – and con­verse – like adults. In Aus­tria – or Vi­enna, at least – chil­dren of all so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds have a mu­si­cal lit­er­acy more ad­vanced than most adults from else­where. While hardly sur­pris­ing (the coun­try’s mu­si­cal her­itage is un­matched), the egal­i­tar­i­an­ism of it all was in­fec­tious.

With four opera houses, end­less con­cert halls and spe­cial balls just for es­tate agents, Vi­enna is the world’s cap­i­tal of clas­si­cal mu­sic; 15,000 con­certs are staged there each year.

Wouldn’t it be sen­si­ble, I sug­gested to my hus­band, to take An­to­nia and her four-year-old brother, Henry, to Vi­enna for a mu­sic-themed long weekend? My hus­band was scep­ti­cal. We’d been to – and loved – West End mu­si­cals, and free lunchtime con­certs at St Martin-in-the-Fields. But this was a daunt­ing level of com­mit­ment.

In Vi­enna, the ge­nius of Mozart would seep in, I ar­gued. The chil­dren would watch every­one from small singing boys to grown-up cel­lists dis­play their artistry and skill. They would be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate the in­cred­i­ble amount of work that goes into be­ing a mu­si­cian. In what is reg­u­larly named the most fam­i­lyfriendly city in the world, my fam­ily could only gain new mo­ti­va­tion.

For­eign cities can be over­whelm­ing for fam­i­lies. But pick a theme, and sud­denly chil­dren and adults are on the same team, on the trail of clues that will il­lu­mi­nate the sub­ject. I sched­uled a con­cert a day, over a five-day, four-night break, and bal­anced live per­for­mances with ac­tiv­i­ties to blow off steam. And as you con­clude that I am the pushi­est mother to have held the po­si­tion, I should ad­mit that my hus­band feared the same. But he now lists our trip to Vi­enna as his favourite fam­ily hol­i­day. The evening we ar­rived, while the Five best mu­si­cal venues

Mar­i­onette The­ater (mar­i­onet­ten the­ater.at); adults €47 (£42), chil­dren €30.

Haus der Musik (haus­der­musik. com/en); adults €13, chil­dren un­der 12 €6, chil­dren un­der three free

Wiener Konz­erthaus (konz­erthaus.at/ en); tick­ets avail­able from €13

Musikverein (musikverein.at); tick­ets avail­able from €14 boys rested, An­to­nia and I headed to MuTh (Musik & The­ater), the ded­i­cated con­cert hall of the Vi­enna Boys’ Choir. With mem­bers as young as five, this was the per­fect way to draw my daugh­ter’s at­ten­tion: chil­dren love see­ing other chil­dren per­form. She sat, rapt, as the boys in their sailor suits sang. The con­duc­tor ended the hour-long con­cert with an un­usual trib­ute to Leonard Co­hen, who had died a few days ear­lier, by lead­ing the boys and the au­di­ence in a sin­ga­long Hal­lelu­jah. Cheesy but in­ter­ac­tive: my daugh­ter skipped out of the hall singing; one con­cert at­tempted, two sat­is­fied cus­tomers.

One morn­ing we went to the grand 150-year-old neo­clas­si­cal Wiener Musikverein (left), home to the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic, for a con­cert which ex­plored the mu­si­cal in­flu­ences on Leonard Bern­stein. Aimed at chil­dren

The Vi­enna Boys’ Choir, main; chil­dren can vir­tu­ally con­duct the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic at Haus der Musik, left; An­to­nia and Henry try the fancy dress at Schön­brunn, be­low

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