One thing that is important to the future of Western Art Music is getting the younger generation connected to the music. Many orchestras and other organizations accomplish this with the typical instrument petting zoos and “kiddie concerts.” An article from the Guardian in the UK discussed what are the most popular ‘classical’ works for children and you will notice that the pieces listed are 1. typical for ALL kiddie concerts 2. programmatic and 3. generally related to Disney. RBD and I (mda) decided we would discuss this list and see if it really is good for an introduction to Western Art Music for children. So let’s start this:
mda: Hello Rich, how are you this fine evening?
RBD: I’m doing rather well thank you very much. Looking forward to this blog.
mda: So you read the list. Let me first start with an overall question of “what do you think of the list?”
RBD: Well, I couldn’t help but notice two things: 1. Every piece is connected to a character or story, and as you mentioned, generally via Disney. 2. I’m assuming that anything with an orchestra is considered ‘classical’ to today’s youth. I’m also curious just how this survey was done. Did the kids get a list from which to choose? Overall, though, anytime a youngster is exposed to classical music, via cartoons, movies, commercials, that’s fine with me….er, well, as long as the kids understand to what they are listening!
An Instrument Petting Zoo!
mda: Yeah, unfortunately the article does not discuss how the list was created. The programmatic aspect is something that strikes me quite a bit. Obviously, it is easier to introduce a young child to a piece of music if there is a story to tell/describe/promote. I am fine with that. Much like you, any way to introduce a child to the wonderment of classical music is fine by me. However, by doing this are we ultimately shrinking the amount of music to introduce to the children? First thought…will this make children expect a story behind each piece? What about Renaissance music (which I know you are not a fan), or Mozart, or Beethoven?
RBD: Good points. Let’s think about these pieces as ‘gateway’ pieces. As mentioned, these pieces have a story to tell, they depict something via music. Now, in classical ‘kiddie concerts’ why not do the same things with different pieces? Play something ‘sad’. Play something ‘happy’. Show the audience, the children, that music can do a lot more than tell a story! After demonstrating how music can portray different emotions, then the orchestra can ask the kids to make up a story/emotion about another piece that they play. …(and now the ‘idea wheel’ gets moving, but the ‘knowing how to implement it’ wheel is a tad rusty) Maybe even send to the classrooms a week or two ahead of time, a piece of music, or send the kids back to school with a different piece of music, and have THEM make up a story! What does that piece of music say to them? Turn it into a contest/game/fun!! All in the name of getting the youth involved!
mda: Good idea. Do you think orchestras are doing this? Obviously you have a little more knowledge with this than I as there isn’t much need for a classical saxophonist in an orchestra. However, I still feel like it puts too much emphasis on the story in the live performance. The kids are getting introduced to a non-programmatic work BUT they are listening to it as a recording
and not a live performance. Am I being too picky with this? Also…hang with me here my brain just left……would it be better to introduce the children to music before they witness a live performance? i.e. they study Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet first to understand the music and then use the live performance to strengthen their thoughts and then throw in non-programmatic works to expand their brains? Answer that and then let’s move on to another question. If you had the ability to introduce young children to a piece of music…any piece…what would it be?
RBD: Introduce the music to the kids BEFORE they get to the concert? Well, I think that makes the most sense ON THE PLANET! For all of the ‘kiddie concerts’ I’ve done and all the ‘school gigs’ I’ve played, I keep thinking: ‘These kids are REALLY getting into this! They LOVE us!’ Then I think, ‘What if these kids had been exposed to some of this material a week or two ahead of time?’ Can you imagine playing a piece the kids have studied/heard before? They would LOVE it! Why do you think they love ‘pop’ music so much? Well, one reason is because they hear it all the time!!! Anytime you get kids listening to classical music and thinking about classical music, getting them invloved…something good has happened! Now to answer your question…What piece of music would I use to introduce classical music to kids? That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about that for a few minutes…
(insert 5 minutes here)
…well, there are so many wonderful pieces out there. On one hand you want to present them with something beautiful, and I know we are trying to be idealistic here, but I’m going to try to be practical. Having a piece with a HUGE orchestra and choir are not cost effective. Having a smaller orchestra doesn’t expose the students to all the instruments. So, I’m going to go with…part of or the entire 1st movement of Shostakovitch 5th symphony! Hell to the Y-E-S!! What a great historical place Shostakovitch has in classical history, not to mention Russian history. There are hints of atonality in there, a march and the repression! The pain of creating music under those confines….WOW! So engaging, especially if they get to discuss it before they come to the concert hall. Now, ideally…? Mahler, anything, I’d say Mahler 2, or the fugue at the end of Beethoven 9th. How many lives can be changed with music that powerful? Hmmm….
So, what would you choose?
Ludwig von Beethoven
mda: Well I was going to say Bach B Minor Mass or Beethoven 9…how perfect is Beethoven 9. You have a great story of the composer, the use of the choir, the ultimate story of Bernstein using it for the fall of the Berlin Wall. But you bring up an interesting concept with being cost effective these days. You know….maybe I would chose a Haydn symphony because they generally have a story of some sort hook to them. How about the Surprise Symphony or the Farewell Symphony? Now granted, it is pretty structured in the composition, but I think it could be a great introduction. In perfect world? I would have to chose Mahler or Bartok! Bartok I think would be an interesting choice. It is quite accessible, full of folk music and fun to listen to. Thoughts?
One of our favorites! Bela Bartok
RBD: Bartok, yeah, I didn’t think about that, of course there are so many pieces from which to choose, anything can work and for a number of reasons. This has been fun my friend!
mda: Thanks for doing this with me. And please NEVER wear sleeping/lounge pants with dogs on it when you go out in public. I think I would stop talking to you if that happened.
RBD: Done and Done!
So, what piece of music to YOU think would be great to introduce to our youth? What piece of music would you have liked to have heard when you were young? Were you exposed to classical music as a child? If so, what pieces?
Thanks for reading and sharing