Classically Speaking, Kids are in Tune!
Classical music is a natural for kids. It isn’t something that you have to “introduce” or “expose” your children to, chances are they’re already well acquainted with it. If your child watches as much television as most American children, s/he has been introduced and exposed to classical music through cartoons and commercials. One of the most celebrated cartoons in history, Bugs Bunny, frequently employed classical music in its episodes. The music of Richard Wagner comprises all of the music in “What’s Opera Doc?” The music in “The Rabbit of Seville,” is Giocchino Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. Composer Franz von Suppé’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna is the ever-present theme in “Baton Bunny.” In Walt Disney’s classic Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, the musical scores are entirely classical. In addition to these and many other Disney films, Warner Bros. also regularly included classical music in their animated cartoons. Animated by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna in the late 1940’s, Tom and Jerry’s “Cat Concerto,” featured the music of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and won an Oscar for Best Short Subject. You can view the “Cat Concerto” online: http://www.turnerclassicmovies.com/Multimedia/Popup/0,,9900,00.html
Enjoying Classical Music At Home
Children readily embrace classical music. It is a part of their daily routine. They do not find it boring, stuffy or highbrow. Here are a few out-of-the box ways to enjoy classical music at home:
- A game of follow-the-leader gets twice as silly when it happens during a Johann Strauss Jr. Waltz. Break a toy? Why not grieve properly to Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette?
- Tiptoe through the house during the Pizzicato-Polka, a beloved composition by Joseph Strauss.
- Sit opposite your child and engage in a non-verbal conversation by using only your facial expressions to a Beethoven Piano Sonata.
- Ask your child to conduct you in a kazoo solo, or the family in a kazoo-only concert - even if the maestro is all about volume and speed, the experience itself will be fun.
- Try spinning in circles for one minute to Bizet’s “The Top” from Jeux d’Enfant. Or, dance for one minute with your child during Chopin’s Minute Waltz.
- You can march toTchaikovsky’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from Album for Children. For early learners, follow the story line of your favorite ballet, and assign the roles to stuffed animals.
Orchestras for Children
Many orchestras have websites designed especially for children, offering learning tools, games and concert information. Three examples are:
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
New York Philharmonic Kids
Symphony orchestras often program family concerts and offer tickets at a lower price than what you might spend at the movie theater. Attending live performances with children provides an important opportunity to share their excitement about music. It also presents an opportunity for them to reflect on their preferences and if invited to, to share their opinions. For example, it might be interesting to know if your child prefers the sound of the trumpet in an orchestra to that of the piccolo. Or that the sound of the cello makes your child feel calm, or that she finds the sound of the trombone to be exhilarating.
Music can encourage self-expression. If you ask your child how a given piece of music makes her feel, it may help to identify and broaden her emotional vocabulary.
Concerts are not only about listening. Featuring dancers, puppeteers, actors, and singers, they can be visually beautiful too. If your child is hearing impaired, concert halls often have devices available to assist you. Orchestras involve teamwork and communication, just as many athletics do. The players often have to discuss the musical intricacies of turning a phrase in much the same way the players on a team have to discuss how they will orchestrate a play on the football field or basketball court. And, albeit slightly less colorful, the concert dress code is a kind of uniform.
Exploring Classical Music with Children
Once your child has listened and observed how an orchestra makes music, the adventure begins. There are many styles of classical music and many composers to choose from, you cannot go wrong. The Internet has a several classical music databases that are easily found. Searching the name of the composer or piece will provide plenty of information to help you narrow your selections. Stores like Barnes and Noble and websites like Amazon.com allow you to listen to several tracks before you buy, so you’ll know before you leave the store or website if you like what you’re hearing.
These Parents' Choice award-winning compilations offer a great introduction to classical music for your kids:
Music for Babies, $18.98 (CD) $10.98 (Cassette)
Alas. New studies don't support Mozart's brain-boosting power, but the composer's ability to make spirits soar is undeniable. These classical pieces, compiled by Mozart Effect author Don Campbell, are well-chosen, lavishly produced, and carefully positioned to match little ones’ play and bedtime rhythms.
Majors for Minors explores the wonderful world of Baroque and Baroque-like music in simple arrangements that allow the transparency and intricacy of the melodic lines to dominate. Many of the hit- parade Baroque composers are here, including J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, as well as some composers (Mozart and Brahms, for example) whose occasional works lend themselves to a Baroque-like treatment. The music has in some cases been rescored to take advantage of keys and sound frequencies that are believed to have a positive developmental effect.
The producers of the CD have taken a smattering of the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach's prodigious output, including minuets, preludes, partitas, and fugues, and presented the music in its simplest, purest form. Every melodic variation is played with machine-like skill. There is little nuance here, but that’s not the point. This is an exercise in stimulating little minds in such a way as to promote complex reasoning and mathematical skill. The music has in some cases been rescored to take advantage of keys and sound frequencies that are believed to have a positive developmental effect. Plato’s observation looms large: “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.”
Music for Little People, $15.98 (CD) $9.98 (Cassette)
A not-for-kids-only musical storybook delights the ear and the imagination. This deftly assembled collection of works by great composers, performed by world-class musicians and actors, includes Meryl Streep's graceful narration in an excerpt from Ravel's "Sleeping Beauty," Carol Channing's comic turn as every character in Gail Kubik's "Gerald McBoing Boing," and Bobby McFerrin as an entire orchestra in "Music Box." Other don't-miss moments: Danny Kaye's gentle rendition of "Tubby the Tuba" and David Bowie's vivid telling of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."
What sets this collection of some of the most beautiful works in classical music apart from the rest is its studious attention to the simple melodic lines that make the pieces so memorable. That is, these works have been stripped of their full, sometimes lush, orchestral scoring to reveal the elegance and beauty of their bare-bones melodies. There is no way the listener of any age can miss the essence of what people find appealing in these works by such composers as Verdi, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Handel, Dvorak, and Schubert.
Antonio Vivaldi was one of the masters of the Baroque Period (1600-1750). His works are among the most recognizable pieces in the classical music repertoire. Baby Vivaldi is a selection of some of his best-loved melodies, including "The Four Seasons," played by The Baby Einstein Music Box Orchestra . . . that is to say, four instrumentalists! But play they do with infectious fun and a sense of the joy that characterizes much of this composer's work. It is a perfect choice for babies and the very young, who will delight in the flights of fancy, the runs, the trills, and the cadences that make Baroque music seem so reminiscent of celestial choirs accompanied by celestial sewing machines. Plus, no excerpt is over 2:30-an important consideration where wee attention spans are concerned.
The premise behind Sing Along Symphonies is that children will learn some of the great melodies of our stellar composers (Beethoven, Liszt, Mozart, Offenbach, Haydn, Purcell, Delibes, Schumann, Bach, and Tchaikovsky) if they can sing silly lyrics along with these modified versions of symphonic hit-parade tunes. The problem is that the words written to accompany these melodies are often hard to sing in time with the music, even for an adult. So, there won't be much sing-along going on. However, the music is undeniably beautiful and well worth introducing to young audiences. The accompanying book includes some nice suggestions for activities to further spark a child's interest in classical music.
Beethoven’s Wig 2 presents some classical music war horses in, shall we say, re-imagined versions, with zany lyrics that spoof many of the conventions of serious music, itself. The new lyrics are included with the CD so that your little ones can sing along. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely turn of events. These pieces (many of which were not written to be sung) are far too musically sophisticated and vocally taxing to invite carefree sing-along. That’s not to say your charges won’t find this CD a pleasant, even fun musical outing. It is that, for sure.
The Children's Group, $15.97 (CD) $8.98 (Cassette)
A mysterious young boy with the voice of an angel, an atmospheric setting in Georgian England, a sympathetic girl (the young heroine from Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery) and George Frederick Handel are the ingredients for a tale inspired by the composer's donation of his masterwork, Messiah, to an orphans' home in London. A splendid combination of dramatized fiction and Handel's music.
The Children's Group, $15.97 (CD) $8.98 (Cassette)
Superb in every way, this recording tells the story of the young Mozart, his father, his family and his music. The text is beautifully written and performed, with Mozart's music, in all its wide, wonderful range, as background. The accompanying notes will enhance children's appreciation of Mozart's life and music.
About the Author
Lisa A. Sheppley is the Director of Education for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
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