As It Happens

Why cellists in Denmark are performing weekly live concerts — for cows

Cattle farmer Louise Haugaard can't be sure whether her cows actually enjoy watching live cello performances, but she thinks they're pretty into it.

'We believe that is good for the animals,' says cattle farmer Louise Haugaard

Cattle farmer Mogens Haugaard, left, and his wife Louise Haugaard, right, clean up their barn while Scandinavian Cello School founder Jacob Shaw, middle, performs. (Julia Severinsen)

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Cattle farmer Louise Haugaard can't be sure whether her cows actually enjoy watching live cello performances, but she thinks they're pretty into it.

About once a week, students from the Scandinavian Cello School in the Stevns municipality in Denmark, come to Haugaard's farm to play calming classical music for her livestock. 

"The musicians say when they play something [the cows] like very much, they get close up to the musicians," Haugaard told As It Happens host Carol Of. 

"We think that it must [mean] they like the music especially. But we cannot know, because they cannot tell us."

Shaw and his cello students play classical music in a barn as the cows watch. (Julia Severinsen)

The cow concerts are the brainchild of the school's founder, Jacob Shaw. A few years back, the cellist — who has toured the world performing in top concert venues — set up shop near Haugaard's farm. 

According to the New York Times, Shaw told Haugaard and her husband about how Japan's famous Wagyu cows are pampered their whole lives in order to produce more tender beef. Classical music is a key component of that pampering. 

So the farmers decided to try it out themselves. They installed a boombox in the barn where they keep their 60 heifers so the creatures can be serenaded regularly. Then, about once a week, the cows are treated to intimate live performances by Shaw and his students in residence. 

"We believe that is good for the animals," Haugaard said. "They relax and enjoy it very much — we guess."

Shaw serenades cows in a barn at a farm in Lund, Denmark. (Julia Severinsen)

The cows aren't the only ones benefiting from the unique collaboration. Over the weekend, Shaw and his students performed multiple concerts at the farm, for humans and cattle alike. 

Haugaard and Shaw saw it as an opportunity to promote both the farm and the school, which draws elite young musicians from all over the world who come to study music and learn practical skills like how to book gigs, prepare for competitions and promote their work online.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, the performances were limited to 35 people, outside and under a tent with the cows nearby. 

Danish Culture Minister Joy Mogensen was among the attendees. She told the Times she was grateful for the chance to see live music for the first time in six months.

"I've witnessed a lot of creativity these last months," she told the paper. "But digital just isn't the same. I hope it's one of the lessons we take from corona, how much we all — even cows — miss being together for cultural events." 

Attendees were also invited to sample beer and burgers from the farm while enjoying the music.

Asked how the cows might feel about the fact that people were eating their brethren during the show, Haugaard said: "I hope they don't know. They didn't know, I think."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 

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