KeyNote Goes to School

Each year, music curricula in many Israeli schools depends on the IPO’s education program and musicians.

Because the IPO’s KeyNote is of such special interest to AFIPO members, we begin a two-part feature this month, focusing on the education program’s work in the classroom. In January, a second part will look at full orchestral concerts that are part of this program.


The KeyNote Education Program of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra annually reaches more than 22,000 Israeli children. When the program started, the country’s elementary and high school students had little or no exposure to classical music, and no classroom interaction with world-famous symphony musicians.

The 18-year-old program, administered by program director Irit Rub and its pedagogical director, Dr. Dochy Lichtensztajn, is available to schools across the nation, providing new curricula and teacher-training seminars each semester, site visits by IPO musicians and trained moderators, and admission to concerts by the full Israel Philharmonic.

According to Rub, it was KeyNote that pioneered music curricula for Israel’s schools.¬†All orchestras in the country now follow the IPO’s education system and KeyNote curricula.

“The Education Ministry created its curriculum only two or three years ago,” she said. “Before that, for our first 15 years, KeyNote was the only program available.”

As the nation now looks to the Israel Philharmonic for leadership in music education, KeyNote continues to depend on the AFIPO.

“Without the support of the American Friends, there would never have been a KeyNote program,” Rub said. “It only exists because of this. The orchestra gives its time and support, but without the budget support from American Friends, there would not be a KeyNote program.”



At the beginning of each semester, teachers from participating schools attend the first of several seminars in the KeyNote offices in Charles Bronfman Auditorium. Here they learn about the new semester’s music and share ideas about how to present it to their students.

“They are our agents in the field,” said Rub. “For the children to be able to enjoy the experience and learn from it, they must be engaged.”

“On these special learning days, we go and study the pieces, get pedagogical information from Dochy and share ideas about how to best bring the music to the kids,” said Debbie Zayit, who is in charge of music education at Hovav elementary school in Bnei Zion, a moshav in central Israel. “As a teacher, you have to know the pieces inside out.”

“Obviously,” she continued, “the main thing is for the kids to come out knowing the pieces and enjoying them. We want them to be able to appreciate a beautiful solo part, or say I liked this part but I didn’t like that part, and be able to explain why.”

A half-dozen pieces of music form the curriculum each semester, which is adapted into three age-based versions: grades 1-2, grades 3-6, and high school grades 10-12. The focus is on grades 3-6, who will get to listen to the full orchestra twice each year, while the older and younger groups attend one concert.

Each semester, visits by IPO musicians are the highlight of the program.

“A trio or duet from the Philharmonic come to the school and go through the pieces with the kids and it’s incredible,” added Zayit who plays violin, guitar and sings. She grew up in England, came to Israel in time to serve in the army, and stayed.

“We make a big thing about the Philharmonic Orchestra coming to our school,” she said. “It’s an incredible experience for the kids and then when they go to the concert at the end of the semester to hear the pieces played by the whole orchestra, wow! It’s fantastic.”

Libby Azaryahu, a music teacher for 20 years now working on her third degree, combining music and mathematics at Bar-Ilan University, has taught the program since it began in 2000, and this year made sure that her new school in Ganei Tikva added the program.

“There are headmasters who want to get into this program and there are headmasters who want the children to go and see a play or museum, not a concert,” she explained. “The headmasters decide which cultural activity, if any, the children will go to. Because I know that the KeyNote is so good, every year I make sure that my school has it. This year my new school wanted me to get into another program. I was very insistent that KeyNote is the best program.”

“There are other programs,” agreed Zayit. “I know many of them. But this one is exceptional and The Philharmonic Orchestra is the best orchestra in the country, so it’s a win-win situation. The pieces that are chosen each season vary, including pieces from the Renaissance to 21st¬†century modern music. There’s always something new.”



When the IPO musicians visit the schools, a “moderator” joins them for the in-class music performance. These are freelance presenters with expertise in dealing with both children and professional musicians.

“At the beginning,” Rub explained, “orchestra members thought they could go into the classroom and explain everything. But the moderator is actually a music teacher who’s got the skills to run the class, and to keep the children disciplined. Some of them are actors, or performers, and this is what gives them the ability to charm the children and to capture their attention and make them enthusiastic. They are really the face of the program, leading them from theory to the experience and the feeling. They’re very important for us.”

“The reason the program is successful is this collaboration that we have,” said Neta Amit Moreau, a longtime KeyNote moderator who visits more than a dozen schools each semester. “We know how to speak with school kids in those age groups. And, by taking over the in-school appearances by the musicians, we allow the teachers to enjoy it and also make it more a special event than a school thing.

“We get them participating in learning about the instruments that are being played,” added Moreau, who is a musicologist and chamber opera director who also works with Israeli Opera’s education program. “That way, we avoid it becoming a frontal lesson where students just sit and listen.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us and for the students,” said Yigal Meltzer, the IPO Principal Trumpet. [Read about him here.] He has been traveling to schools on behalf of KeyNote since it began, and this year estimates that he may visit 10 to 15 schools, spending several hours and meeting with hundreds of children each day. “We always like to explain about the instruments and sometimes let them try and play them. I feel very privileged to be able to do this. I think it’s really wonderful.”

“The amazing thing about it is that the orchestra players meet with every class privately in the music room,” said Azaryahu. “Its not all 200 children at once, but a class of 30 at a time so they can touch the instruments, and talk with the players. It is a very intimate session.”

“It gives the children motivation and an insight into what can be achieved with a little practice,” added Zayit. “A few years ago Yigal Meltzer, the Principal Trumpet player, came to our school with the trombonist Micha Davis. After the session, some of the children asked, ‘Can we bring our trombones and trumpets and play with you?’ The musicians and children all sat together playing. That in my opinion is the greatest gift of all. Seeing my grade 4 and 5 students playing with some of the greatest players in Israel.”

“The idea is for the children to hear more and more and more of the music that they will eventually hear in the full concert at the end of the term,” Rub said.

The current semester’s concert will be at the end of January 2019, and we will be back earlier that month with a second feature about how KeyNote organizes these events that culminate the program.