Classical music to get the Barbie treatment

// 30 October 2007

A colleague of mine was a little confused yesterday when a press release entitled “Classical Music Gets Barbie-fied!” popped into his inbox. It was from Mattel, who are unveiling plans for a UK tour of Barbie at the Symphony, a “children’s animated classical music experience” in which Barbie “sings and dances to some of the world’s best loved musical scores, including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and Dvorak’s Symphony From The New World.”

Would Tchaikovsky be turning in his grave if he realised that classical music is about to get the Barbie treatment?

With the average symphony attendee aged over 55-years-old, Barbie at the Symphony aims to introduce a whole new generation to the delights of classical music.

Barbie at the Symphony is aimed at children as young as three. It is an animated classical music experience featuring a special film with orchestra presentation of six of the best selling Barbie ‘Princess’ movies, including the latest release Barbie as the Island Princess.

I don’t think that Tchaikovsky would turn in his grave at this. In fact, I think that given his concentration on intensely programmatic ballet music, he would be delighted at the concept of modern technology being used to interpret his works, not to mention making them more accessible for children. I think that if Tchaikovsky were to turn in his grave, it would not be at the idea of a non-traditional treatment of his work but at the fact that the audience consisted almost entirely of girls.

Since when has classical music been just for girls? Try listening to a Bruckner symphony and tell me it’s “just for girls”. Of course, sitting through a concert requires the ability to sit still and be quiet for a significant length of time, which is a feat most people would expect of girls but not of boys.

I don’t really think that Mattel think that classical music is just for girls. However much their press release tries to convey a genuine concern that children should develop an interest in the arts, they are just cashing in on the Barbie brand. They’re not making a statement that classical music is just for girls – they’re just producing a classical music event endorsed by everybody’s favourite vapid plastic bimbo. What’s for the boys – Action Man beats up namby-pamby pacifists to Barber’s Adagio?

Personally, I think this event looks pants, and unless you fancy overdosing on pink and boring the pants off yourself and your daughters, nieces and sisters watching a CGI Barbie do sod all but twirl around and look pretty I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you want to get children into classical music, you could do a lot worse than taking them to a performance of Peter and the Wolf. It has strong characters, cunning, stupidity, friendship, villains, forgiveness and a brilliant score by Prokofiev, introducing various instruments of the orchestra through a series of leitmotifs. And best of all, it’s not just for girls.

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