“The big one!” yells one boy as the percussionists pause after a two-marimba, one-vibraphone rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
His call ripples down the two crescent rows of orange plastic chairs until more than 50 children are chanting in unison, pointing at the scuffed blue base drum waiting to be used.
“The big one the big one the big one…”
A man in the small audience of friends and parents laughs: “They could teach adult audiences a thing or two about spontaneity.”
“…the big one the big one the big one THE BIG ONE…”
The kids get what they want. And they get to play along on upturned white plastic buckets.
Södertälje municipality, one hour south of Stockholm, last year invested in the music tutoring programme El Sistema, which aims to foster an interest in music among kids of all backgrounds.
It started in Venezuela and has since spread, with a youth orchestra already in place in Gothenburg when Södertälje picked up the baton last year. A small troupe of the children even performed at the opening of the Swedish parliament in September.
Above the din of the improvized “Bucket Band”, a concept invented by a US outfit of El Sistema, Royal Philharmonics project manager Karina Svensson explains that most of their musicians began playing at the same age as the children in Södertälje.
The entire ensemble has already visited the small suburban school, then the strings did a breakout performance. Today, it was the percussionists’ turn to travel south.
“Our job is to act as inspiration,” she says.
“It’s not breaking news that young kids like to bang on drums,” says the Philharmonics’ principal percussionist Daniel Kåse.
He himself used his mum’s saucepans and even the letterbox to bang out a rhythm before his parents gave him a drum at age five.
“Hopefully some of this sticks and the children feel psyched to continue with music,” Kåse says.
Eight-year-old Ilan Malke says she will keep up playing the cello, while Noor Aljabiri, 9, interjects that she is “going to be famous” although maybe not by playing the violin that she is learning to master in El Sistema.
“At first it was scary, now I’m an expert,” Aljabiri says.
“I know how to sing too.”
(Later in the day, when The Local calls El Sistema’s project manager to fact check, she says Aljabiri has taped her singing and made the project manager promise to send it on to the reporter.)
Then it’s time to head home. The children, most of whom are six or seven alongside a few older pupils, meet three to four times a week to listen to and perform music. At the end of lessons, some follow their music teachers to the bus stop, on to afternoon activities (fritids).
Outside in the winter sludge, the movers push the instruments back to the van. The kids trickle past them. Sleet drips from the light grey sky. The giant blue base drum goes last. The van door snaps shut. Stumbling, pretending to be horses in the snow, the children by the bus stop neigh.
Norgul Yalikun has come to pick up her 6-year-old daughter Elvira.
“We moved here from Linköping and there are much fewer activities for the children here,” she says about the Hovsjö area of Södertälje.
“I’m glad the children have something to do.”
So is Sundes Gilana. Her 9-year-old daughter translates for her.
“Doesn’t baba play violin too,” Maria asks her mother.
“No no no, guitar,” Sundes says in Arabic, before breaking into a smile and saying in hesitant Swedish.
“They play, I dance.”