To continue with my series on introducing children to the fine arts, I am going to discuss music appreciation and composer study and give ideas for how easy it is to incorporate this type of learning into our everyday lives. First however, I’d like to recap while I feel this type of exposure is so important.
Why Study Fine Arts?
“Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator, believed that exposing children to great ideas and beauty in all areas inspired them to greatness as well. She theorized that by letting them become familiar with the best artists, composers, and writers, they would be less willing to settle for mediocrity in themselves. As Elizabeth Gutman said in her book, The Story of Art, part of The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls series: “The magic power of art can arouse all kinds of emotions in us, from simple joy to much deeper feelings. And artists are great people whose works can gladden our eyes, enrich our thoughts, and deepen our feelings.”
“I think these words can apply to ALL areas of the fine arts. And with today’s norm of following the crowd or being happy with the status quo, we should want our children to be inspired and motivated to strive for more—to reach for excellence instead of being content with the marginal.”
Why listen to classical music or study composers?
We’ve all heard about the ‘Mozart Effect’ in the last few years. There have been books and studies claiming that listening to the music of Mozart actually helps to develop the brain, improve short term memory, and increase IQ. Many parents have jumped on the bandwagon and are exposing their children, some even before birth, to Mozart.
There is great debate on whether or not there really is anything to this theory, but research does show that when a child listens to classical music the right hemisphere of the brain is activated, and when a child studies a musical instrument both the left and right hemispheres of the brain light up. Nevertheless, the interest generated by this phenomenon has catapulted classical music back into the spotlight, and that in itself has been a good thing.
In addition, classical music is simply beautiful and peaceful. It’s universal and no matter what language, music forges a common bond. Music also creates emotions and enriches lives with the fulfillment that comes from enjoyment. Many people believe that the soothing tones of classical music influences children’s behavior in a positive way and increases attention span and concentration. A working knowledge of classical music and the men who wrote it also makes for a well-rounded education and individual. But never underestimate the ability of a very young child to appreciate and recognize a piece of music or the work of a composer. When my son was about two years old, he would shout out, “Tchaikovsky!” whenever he heard Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy!
The composers who made these musical contributions to the world are important in their own right and have their places in history as well. Many of them had extraordinary lives and are quite interesting to read about. Children are usually fascinated to learn things such as the fact that Mozart was a child prodigy who composed music by the age of five or that Beethoven continued to write music even after he lost his hearing. And although it’s easy to introduce our children to the composers as we expose them to various pieces of music, we can do so by casually mentioning the name. The main thing is to cultivate enjoyment and appreciation; a more in-depth study can be done as our children grow older.
There is an excellent article on the Ambleside Online website about music appreciation. And one of the writers/advisors, Wendi Capehart, summed things up quite well:
“In music study the same principles apply as do in picture study, nature study, and nature notebooks. That is the principle of attentiveness and good observation. The goal is not to have children who can give a lecture on music theory. It is to have children learn to enjoy classical music and tell one piece from another just as naturally as they learn the difference between, say, The Farmer in the Dell and When the Saints Go Marching In – because they are both familiar with and fond of what they are hearing. The more they are exposed to good literature, the better they get at reading the themes and language of literature. In art and music, the more they are simply exposed to pictures and music, the more they learn to ‘read’ the themes of the world’s classic compositions.”
So how do we introduce classical music or composers to our children?
Start early! As Wendi said, it’s all about exposure! Simply playing classical music to children when they are young will train their ears to the ‘beautiful and lovely.’ At this age, they haven’t been conditioned by modern music to think of classical music as uncool or boring, and they will be more apt to develop an appreciation for it that will last a lifetime.
Play classical music softly in the background of your home. It sets the tone and atmosphere of a peaceful household. In addition, everyone will begin to recognize the various pieces and probably request their favorites. Although not as calming as other pieces, my children always wanted to hear Flight of the Bumblebee! There are many inexpensive CDs that include the ‘best of’ different composers.
Introduce composers casually as the pieces are played. For very young children, simply telling them who wrote the piece is usually enough. After awhile, they will begin to associate the music with the correct composer.
Biographical sketches or short biographies of composers are appropriate for older children. There are many books and resources available to teach about the composer’s lives. I’ve included some of these in the ‘resources’ section.
Consider using a planned rotation of composers/music for older children as well. Ambleside Online has a plan for a scheduled composer for each term and lots of other great links and resources at: http://www.amblesideonline.org/ComposerSch.shtml.
Try to attend a classical music concert. We are all familiar with the large concert venues in big cities, but many local or regional orchestras also present concerts on a regular basis. This would be a great family outing. There are also occasionally concerts aired on television stations such as PBS.
Children learn from their parents. When we show an interest in classical music and composers, our children will be more receptive. Again, it’s all about starting early and exposure!
Classical Kids Collection created by Douglas Cowling, Walter Babiak, Erin Cooper-Gay, and Mark Donnelly. This set includes various dramatized stories/music clips about different composers such as Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Hallelujah Handel, etc. We have several of these CDs, and my children have enjoyed them immensely.
Baby Einstein Collection DVDs by Julie Aigner-Clark
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers series by Mike Venezia
Great Musicians series by Opal Wheeler
Early Composers (Coloring Book) by Eric Tomb
Great Composers series (Coloring Books) by David Brownell
Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt
Charlotte Mason Style website – www.squidoo.com/charlotte-mason-styled-composer-study.
History of Classical Music Study Guide- A curriculum by Beautiful Feet Books at www.bfbooks.com.
San Francisco Symphony for Kids website- www.sfskids.org
Online Classical Music: