Friday, November 12, 2010

Consuming Music

Having played violin in an orchestra in Japan, my Mother loved classical music and often played it in our home when I was a little girl. Sometimes we would visit her older sister, in whose tiny home in Tokyo sat a Grand Piano, far too large for its surroundings, but an essential in their home. I remember my desire to be able to play that beautiful instrument as well as my cousins as I listened to them practice for their recitals.

I never did have the patience to sit through my lessons without tears and consequently never learned to read music, but my mother's love for classical music has always stayed with me. And going through the AO Composer Study list with my kids has been an adventure in rediscovering familiar music and discovering new.

It is amazing to me how consuming a piece of music can be; how it can just grip you in awe. I always favored the stormy and weightier movements, perhaps because it appeals to my more intense nature or maybe it's amazement at just how far someone can take an instrument. In any case, I thought this one is just phenomenal:

According to Wikipedia, Charles Rosen said of this final movement of the well-known Moonlight Sonata, "it is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion. Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing."

I couldn't help but feel the same astonishment listening to it.

What's even more astonishing is seeing someone play it.

As to what Charlotte says about children learning music, I couldn't find much in browsing her writing, but I assume it's along the same lines with the rest of her philosophy. Develop the love and interest that is naturally there by putting them in touch with the best of the best. Don't hinder the child with hours and hours of playing the same unappetizing piece over and over or focus on dry semantics first.

I did find a couple of PNEU articles on music and these quotes stuck out to me:

"The child's musical education has two stages--one which we think about, and one which we don't think about. There is the stage of formal teaching, which must begin some day, and which we think about seriously because we have to pay for it. And there is the long stage of informal learning, the first six years of a child's life, which is not represented in the quarterly account, and is likely to be overlooked altogether. ... The parent's part of the child's musical education is (if we may express it in Herbartian phrase) 'to create a large apperception mass in the direction of music,' so that there may be a crowd of ideas ready to seize upon whatever new material the teacher may present, and to assimilate it." ~Music Teaching by Mrs. Spencer Curwen

"Technique and expression are almost too nearly allied for a child to distinguish between them. If the melody is singing sweetly, clearly, and sustainedly in one hand, and the other is accompanying firmly, quietly, and in perfect time, let that be enough. In the after years when life has opened out in all directions, and the mind is full of the mystery of human life, and the heart is full of love, and maybe sorrow, then expression will come." ~About Music Teaching by Barbara Davenport

All I have done as far as composer study for the past few years is to play classical music here and there when we're cooking, cleaning or the kids are playing. I didn't start with the AO schedule until my daughter was in YR2. Originally, we listened to Peter And The Wolf & Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra which my Mother always talked about.

We then heard about Beethoven's Wig, which everyone insisted was Twaddle, but loved it anyway so we got it at the library and sure enough, the kids loved it. I'll admit it, I loved it. It's a compilation of popular classics with lyrics added to them for fun and learning, but it's unnecessary. The upside of it is that it's well done, it's fun, the kids learn about the composer and the song through the lyrics, they beg for it to be played. The downside is that the silly lyrics may be the thing your kids remember about the song and will forevermore think of Beethoven's 5th as 'Beethoven's Wig'. And his voice can get annoying.

The CDs come with 2 versions of each song - one with the lyrics, one without, so I phased out playing the ones with the lyrics and played the ones without and they still enjoyed it but would ask for the other version.

After that I downloaded some of my favorites that I remembered and then in YR2 we started with the AO schedule and that has been fun. Here's a link to this term's composer study that Kristine put together that you can play right off the computer.

The kids dance and hum or whistle along to the songs they like and ask me to play the composer study playlist at times. They know a few names of the composers and can identify Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Peter & The Wolf, Handel's Messiah, Beethoven, and a few others, but know nothing of music theory or much at all about the composer's lives.

For now we're just enjoying it.

Here are some quotes on Composer Study from 'Wendi' that I found on the
AO: Music page.

"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." "With reading we don't begin with the mechanics, the grammar and punctuation, nor we do we begin with a biography of Beatrix Potter before we read Peter Rabbit. With music, we should begin in much the same way - with simple exposure."

"So they can simply play around with music, listening to it, plinking away on musical instruments without being burdened with facts about the lives of composers, music theory, technique, and composition. In other words, those of us who do nothing much more than play the tapes and CDs, occasionally humming along, of each term's composers, need not feel guilty. =)"

I hope you'll choose to listen to the great composers with your children. There are fantastic treasures for every sort of taste that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Even my 3 year old enjoys Handel's Messiah and sings along. Even better, take your children to see it live at Christmastime - they will never forget the fantastic music inspired by our glorious Lord!


  1. I love this! This is us too. It took some time to actually get into 'composer studies' per say. Though I think I'll steer clear of that book/CD combo... my kids seem to enjoy the music without the 'help' and I'd probably have a hard time phasing out the silly... we're all about silly around here! ;)

    amy in peru

  2. Thankyou for your article. I'll be glad to no longer feel guilty about merely playing the music and developing a natural appreciation for classical music through 'simple exposure'. We have invested in Beethovens Wig 1 & 2 and we have all enjoyed them immensely. It's a shame that BW are regard as twaddle (I can understand why though) because I think that classical music for little people can be not as interesting as other music and material such as BW, whilst not ideal with it's silliness, does lend itself to be used as you have said, slowly replaced by the lyric-less version. For newbies, like myself, classical music appreciation is a reeducation of sorts and if it can be made fun so that all can enjoy it by being lead by a parents enthusiasm I think it obviously is a gentler way to introduce Composer studies. We supplement our studies with living books on the composers life which may just focus on one of their pieces. Thanks for the links, I'm off to visit them now :D
    JM in Oz