Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kids and Classical Music :: Part III :: Ideas for School Age Children

(Looking for Part I and Part II??  <- Those are the links!)  

My boys are still elementary school age, so we haven't gotten into any very intense study of classical composers and styles. Everything we do is still meant to encourage enjoyment and appreciation, but the more exposure they have to a variety of music, the more the have been able to identify different styles and composers.  

Last year I started using the book, The Story of the Orchestra, by Robert Levine. 

While I like the concept of the book - it introduces major composers and includes portions of their work on CD - I ended up not using it much.  Instead, the kids preferred full-length picture books and biographies we found in the juvenile section of the library.  Now I use this book just to introduce different periods/styles of classical music and to guide the order in which we cover composers.   I usually gather whatever materials I can find on a particular composer and then we'll use them for a quarter of the school year.  

We started last year with the the Baroque Period (my favorite, and if I didn't realize how lopsided it would be we'd probably do all Baroque all the time!) and covered Vivaldi, Bach and Handel (Handel is not in the above-mentioned book for some reason).  The fourth quarter we started into the Classical period and learned about Mozart.  This year we've covered Beethoven, and are waiting until after the first of the year to start up with some Romantic composers.  

I thought what I would do is give you an idea of the materials we used for a couple of these composers and then quickly list some resources that are useful for a variety of composers.  This should provide an idea of the types of materials I gather for each composer... I hope :)  

ANTONIO VIVALDI, 1678 - 1741

Picture Books:

I, Vivaldi, Janet Shefelman

Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Anna Harwell Celenza


Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery, from Classical Kids - a fictional story which incorporates real aspects of Vivaldi's life as a priest and orchestra director at an Venice orphanage for girls. Features his music throughout.

The Story of Vivaldi and Corelli, Music Masters series.  And hour of music and narrated biography. 

Vivaldi for Valentine's - this really has nothing to do with couples or Valentine's.  It's just a collection of soothing ("romantic," if you will) by Vivaldi.  It's great for putting on at bedtime!  

We also listened repeatedly to recordings I have of The Four Seasons and Gloria - one of my favorite Vivaldi pieces.  Here's the Gloria on YouTube.


Picture Books:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mike Venezia 

Mozart: the Wonder Child: a Puppet Play in Three Acts, Diane Stanley

Mozart, Greta Cencetti

Young Mozart, Rachel Isadora (I know we got this from the library, but I don't remember much about it... not sure if it was that great.  Sorry.)

Mozart Finds a Melody, Stephen Costanza 


Mozart's Magnificent Voyage 
Mozart's Magic Fantasy: a Journey Through the Magic Flute 
(both from Classical Kids) - stories relating events in the life of Mozart and a girl's "backstage" experience at a production of the Magic Flue.  Both feature pieces by Mozart; the first also has music by a few other composers.)

Mozart for Meditation (relaxing, suitable for bedtime music!)
There are actually tons of Mozart compilations in this "series" from the Philips label... 
for your Morning Commute
for Mothers to Be
for a Monday Morning
for Midnight
for your Morning Coffee

And of course, we looked to YouTube...  The Mozart Requiem is one of my favorite choral pieces, so we listened to the more "exciting" portions of that like the Dies Irae.  After we became familiar with the music and story of The Magic Flute we watched clips of the Queen of the Night Aria and the well-known Papagena and Papageno duet.  Finally, I told the kids the story of how 14-year-old Mozart "stole" the music to Allegri's Miserere (Psalm 51) from the Vatican by committing it to memory.  It is referenced in the Mozart's Magnificent Voyage CD and we read more about it here. This story was especially fun for the boys because they were already very familiar with the Miserere - it's another one of the things they love to listen to at bedtime.  "Mom, what would we listen to at bedtime if Mozart had never sneaked out of the chapel and wrote it down?"  We don't even have to conjecture! Here's a lovely recording... YouTube again!  

* * * * * *

Ok, I think that's enough for now.  You get the idea.  There's plenty of stuff to keep you busy for an academic quarter once you choose a composer!  

* * * * * *

Some of these have already been referenced, but here are some ideas/resources to use for a variety of composers:

BOOKS:  In general, I tend to stay away from books that are collections of short bio's - things like "A Child's Book of Famous Composers"  - simply because I've never found one that holds my kids' attention.  They prefer, and deserve, whole books, and we all enjoy a good story!  I typically scour Amazon and the library on-line catalog to find relevant titles. 

Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers, series by Mike Venezia (The kids and I both really enjoy these books.  They are informative - even Venezia's trademark cartoon illustrations are full of information that the kids remember long after the book's gone back to the library.  We also use his books on the artists that we're studying.)   

Picture books by Anna Harwell Celenza.  She has books on these composers - usually focusing on the story surrounding one particular piece of music:
Ellington / (on his arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite)

Composer biographies by Opal Wheeler.  We have read only a couple of these, but have enjoyed them.  I'm hoping we'll be able to track down more, but our library only has a few.  She has written on all the usual suspects as well as Wagner, Chopin, Schubert, and Paganini.

CD's: Some educators disagree with the concept of using "snippets" of pieces for music study.  Example - on the Mozart Masters of Classical Music disc, the first track is just the well-known Allegro movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik. For my purposes this is fine for now.  Perhaps in the future I will insist on playing complete pieces for my children, but for now, it's ok for me to provide them with compilations of the "Best of..."

Classical Kids Story Series - In addition to a handful of composers, they also have a story CD introducing early music called The Song of the Unicorn, and a delightful Christmas production called A Classical Kids Christmas.  (the thing that makes this disc different from many other kids' Christmas collections is that it's almost all sacred music interwoven with the story.  I really recommend it!)  The composers they have are:
Mozart (2)

PHILIPS label CD's such as Bach for Breakfast, or all the Mozart titles mentioned above.  It's not an actual series that I can link to, but if you click here, you'll find lots more titles featuring various composers.  As I alluded to before, I'll use these collections for bedtime music a lot - so many of the collections are soothing pieces for "relaxation," "meditation," or "daydreaming."

(note - all these links are to Amazon for convenience, but we've been able to find a lot of these books and CD's through our library.)

* * * * * *

If you've been searching for ideas for enjoying more classical music in the home, I hope that some of this has been helpful! It's a jumping off point, at least!  Please don't forget to leave your own ideas and resources here too!  

Friday, November 29, 2013

A "Grateful For This Life" Photo Dump

** If you're waiting for my next post on classical music - Wow!  I'm flattered!  It will be here soon.  I haven't forgotten! **

Taking the day after Thanksgiving to post a few photos of my blessed life (taken over the last few days)...

6 Year Old Birthday Dominic with an unconventional "Birthday Cake"

ready for Mass Thanksgiving morning

best we could manage family photo

reading with Grandma!
cuddling with Papa!

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices!

Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Prime Time Photo Op

kind of a cheesy pun there... 

I've been meaning to take this "Prime Time" photo for a while and realized that if I didn't do it soon, it would be too late. If my calculations are correct, this is the only time when the age of each of my children will be a prime number.  I felt like photo documentation was necessary!

Clare's holding a "1" in case you couldn't figure it out.   What I can't figure is out why Ruth looks so sacred of the number 3...  
Dominic is my Thanksgiving-time baby.  He'll be six tomorrow, so like I said, we had to squeeze this in!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kids and Classical Music :: Part II :: Ideas for Young Children

Before you read here, check out Part I - my thoughts on Kids and Classical Music

This "mini series" is a collection of ideas on ways to expose children to classical music and to increase their appreciation for it along the way.   It's not about learning an instrument, music theory, or composition.  It's just about enjoyment.  And I enjoy this topic so much, I thought I'd share some of what we do in our home with you!

* * * * * *

Two years ago, when the boys were 4 and 5, I started to do some intentional exposure to classical music, meaning going beyond just having something playing in the background.  

Here's some of what we used...
Resources/Ideas for getting young kids started on classical music:

(story by Paul Tripp)

This is a sweet story about a tuba who wants to be more than just the "oom-pah-ing" bass line in the orchestra.  If you Google it, all sorts of results come up...  My favorite version is the 1947 cartoon version by George Pal. 
Tubby the Tuba, 1947 cartoon on Youtube
Tubby the Tuba, book and CD set (same text as the cartoon)

Tubby the Tube, story narrated by Danny Kaye (isn't he one of the best story tellers!?!)
Tubby the Tube - LIVE performance with the Boston Pops, Julia Child is the narrator!   I love this recording, because kids get to see real people playing the same instruments they've "met" in the cartoon.  (has a slightly different text)
More on tubas:
How it's Made: Tubas
Tuba Concerto by Ralph Vaughn Williams - just for some exposure to a another piece written specifically for tuba!

by Sergei Prokofiev

Story and music tell the story of Peter who helps capture a wolf in the forest.  Each character is represented by a different instrument of the orchestra.
* I used this recording of the story, narrated by David Bowie. It's one of many different tracks on the disc, Child's Celebration of Classical Music.  (note: there is a track on here with a Danny Kaye song Tubby the Tuba - same story, but it's not the full narration mentioned above.)

* Peter and the Wolf, a picture book illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.  We got this from our library.

* This picture book and recording also look nice, but I have not seen it in person:  Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, with fully orchestrated and narrated CD.  I especially like the preview pages which show the animals and the instruments that represent them.  

* Peter and the Wolf Ballet - Royal Ballet School.   I let the kids watch this version on Youtube.  It's presented in 4 parts. The link here is to Part 1, and from there you can easily find 2, 3, and 4.

by Camille Saint-Saens

Saint-Saens portrayed several animals through short musical pieces.  Many recordings of these pieces are accompanied by poems, the first were by poet Ogden Nash.  

The Carnival of the Animals, (Book and CD) Poems by Jack Prelutsky.  We were able to get this book and recording from our library.  We read each poem, and then listened to the corresponding tracks - poem and music.  It's fun to listen for things like the lions roaring, the elephants stomping around, donkey's braying, and the fossils clanking about.

* This link is to a full recording of the music accompanied by still pictures on Youtube.  (no poems)
* I have not heard this recording, but here's one with the Ogden Nash poems, narrated by 14 well known TV/movie personalities. 

(Disney Production)

What a fun way to "see" how music can tell a story!  

My kids have watched the VHS version of this that was left over from my own childhood.  I know that a special edition came out in 2000 with additional material - I have not seen it, so I can't comment on the "new" stuff.  I don't have a link to this, but check the library!

(by Benjamin Britten)

This piece of music was written by Britten to accompany an educational film about the orchestra.  It's based on a theme that was written by compose Henry Purcell and features different instruments and sections of the orchestra at different points. I've listened to many different versions of this on Youtube, and have decided to link to these...

* This version is a great musical and visual recording.  The narration though is not the original, but instead consists of new poems written for this particular performance at the PROMS at Royal Albert Hall, London. (skip intro if you want, the actual performance starts around the five-minute mark.) Look for the second half of the performance on the right-hand menu.

* This version does not have a great picture, and the sound and picture aren't quite in sync.  However, it's one of my favorite Youtube recordings because the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, looks like he's having so much fun and his dynamic personality really adds to the performance.  I like for the kids to see videos of conductors and performers enjoying themselves and the music - visual proof that classical music is not dull and boring! (Like the above version, it's also in two parts.

Note: I have not heard this recording aside from samples on Amazon, but I see that there is a recording that includes Peter and the Wolf, The Carnival of the Animals, and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - all conducted (and narrated?) by Leonard Bernstein.

by William Lach


This is another book/cd combo we were able to find at our local library.  Can You Hear It? contains several works of art and questions that help the reader find various items in the artwork. The tracks on the CD correspond to the paintings and your encouraged to "find" the same items you found in the pictures in the music.  


Finally, we took the boys to a few live performances that year. Two were outdoor philharmonic concerts and the other was the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.  I highly recommend this opera, and wrote as much in this post from last November.  If you're interested in checking out Amahl but can't get to a performance, you can also look for it on-line.  It was originally written for television, and you can watch that original performance here.  It includes a lovely introduction by the composer, Gian Carlo Menotti.  But it is a recording from the 50s, so the audio/video quality is probably not what today's children are used to :) There are many other performances of the opera on Youtube, but I wasn't able to choose one to link to... They are mostly mediocre "home videos" of community performances; You'll have to check them out for yourself.  (I recommend acquainting children with the story and some of the music before viewing the opera - either live or on screen - so that even if they can't understand a particular singer, they know what is being sung.)

* * * * * *

I know, I can be long-winded, but I hope that something in there is helpful for a family searching for engaging ways to introduce classical music to younger children.  In the next part, I will include some of what we've been using last year and this year as the kids get a little "older."

What resources have you used to bring classical music to your young kiddos??  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kids and Classical Music :: Part I :: My Thoughts

(Haha.  This on the heels of my post featuring oldies and Motown!)

* * * * * *

"If your ear is trained up on bad music... you will find it hard to listen to Beethoven."
- Esolen

A couple weeks ago we were doing a little cleaning around the house for the Soup Party and I decided to put on some motivational music.  I don't know why, but I pulled Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture out from the CD bin, popped it in, and turned it up.  Now, the kids have heard it before because it had occurred to me before that music written with cannons as one of the instruments just might be kind of cool for boys.  But this time it also occurred to me that Aaron knew a little about Napoleon from history last year, so as the music played, I told him the story.  And then we listened to it again and again and again... really loudly.  And he could hear the story.  And now he knows the highlights of Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Russia and the primary themes of the 1812 Overture. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic! 

It's been a long time now that I've wanted to write about kids and classical music, but I've hesitated because, as excited as I am to chat about this topic, I'm also nervous about seeming snooty, snobbish... hoity toity, if you will Please believe me that no one who knows me has ever accused me of being too cultured or classy... think beer instead of wine and casseroles in aluminum tins instead of foie gras on crystal platters.  Mmkay?  I shall do my best to be non hoity toity, because I'm really not.  I'm just really convicted that a background in classical music (even a small one) is so worthwhile for my children and I wish only to share my enthusiasm, offer some suggestions, and absorb your thoughts and ideas on this topic.   

I think that gifting children with a knowledge and appreciation of classical music is immensely important and valuable.  I've always thought so, but never actually gave it much thought until reading Esolen's 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child this past summer.  (After this post, I promise I won't mention the book again.)  I liked the book, but I loved the chapter "Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal OR The Kingdom of Noise."  The focus of the chapter is on the "noise" children encounter in our culture - on television, on the radio, on school walls (posters and slogans, etc...) and even in books. Children are so accustomed to books without plot or prose - instead today's children's books are filled with "insets" containing snippets of information.  Likewise, TV is just shallow story lines presented in fits and starts, "shots are quick, disjointed..." and are "punctuated by moronic sales pitches for toys and toothpaste and luxury cars..."  And popular music?? Children have been "fed on noise, and have no taste for melody... Just as their eyes have been trained to jitter with the skips and blips of visual distraction, (so) their ears jitter along with incoherent wailings..." and their minds do not have the capability of focusing on an intricate, challenging, thought-provoking plot, or poem, or piece of music.  

Ah!  I thought.  He's right!  And that's why this has become more important to me even than it was before.  Actually, it hasn't necessarily gained importance, it's just that now I don't feel so "weird" making a big deal about it.  I feel justified.  Because if the ear and the mind and the soul aren't trained to hear real music when they are young, the opportunity may be lost.  The ability and interest to appreciate and understand good music is at risk of being destroyed by exposure to the alternatives.  

A child "develops a taste for" vegetables because his parents offer him a variety of vegetables over and over again.  He "develops a love of" books because books are read to him and are readily available to him.  The same child that has developed tastes, loves, abilities and skills as a result of exposure to various foods, stories, projects, and activities, is similarly able to "develop an ear" for classical music if it is available to him.  Parents have the opportunity to not only expose their children to "good" music but to present it as something meaningful, exciting, adventuresome, and fun.

It's not like I've actually researched this topic.  I'm sure there are studies that have found things like, "minors exposed to classical music in excess of 14.3 hours a week have 27% more brain activity during their wakeful hours and sleep 4.65 times more soundly than those minors were exposed to 0 - 14.2 hours of classical music per week."  I haven't really based based my decisions on scientific findings.  I expose my kiddos to classical music because I enjoy it, they enjoy it, I believe it's good for them, and more importantly, because it's what my parents did for me. And I am so grateful.  Mom and Dad, are you there? THANK YOU.

I grew up surrounded by music because it's what my parents did. It was normal to attend the operas and concerts my mom performed in and to hear her voice in the  next room even though she wasn't home - she was a weekday program host on the local classical music radio station and it was the only station that was ever on in the home.   When I was young I would sometimes go to the station to "sleep over" while she worked the night shift, and when I was older I volunteered there.  She got tickets to great concerts and took me to them - I got to meet violinists Joshua Bell and Midori and cellist Yo-Yo Ma! (darn, if only I knew where those pictures were...) On Saturday mornings we would clean the house listening to the obscure opera, the Ballad of Baby Doe. (why, Mom?)  My parents took us to free philharmonic summertime concerts in the parks.  Many weekend evenings my Dad would "warm up" in the basement and leave for his "second job" - playing in a large dance band for weddings and large parties.  On Independence Day we'd go to hear him play in the local wind ensemble before fireworks.  When Dad put the Nutcracker Suite record on the turntable, the needle would often skip from all the "ballet" dancing and twirling going on in the house.  

The memories go on and on.  And it was totally normal to us.  My parents did it because it they knew it and loved it; they didn't have an educational agenda.  It wasn't until I got to about sixth grade when I started to realize it actually wasn't that normal. But by that time I didn't care and I realized how unfortunate it was that other kids didn't get to stay up way past their bedtime to watch the four operas in Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle broadcast live from the Met.  By the time I got to college I finally realized that not only was what my parents had done not "normal," I realized it was extraordinary, and I was truly, truly appreciative.

I don't have the same music-related education and professional background that my parents have.  I don't have all the knowledge they did, so in some ways I feel that I have to work a little harder at bringing good music into our home.  It's not as seamless in my home today as it was in the home of my childhood. But I work at it since it does hold such importance for me and because I have already seen how rewarding it has been for my own children - and they probably don't even realize it yet!  

* * * * * *

I have written this as a mini "series."  I'll be back next week with more on this topic (I *think* in three parts): ideas for exposing children, and your whole family, in general to more classical music; specific ideas and resources to use for very young children based on the things I did with my boys when they were 4 and 5; and ideas for further study, based mostly around specific composers.  What I do in our home is just what I've come up with - it's not based on any educational philosophy, program, or lesson plan.  It's how we keep classical music in our home, how we enjoy it, and how we keep it fun!  I hope you'll come back and join me next week and will consider contributing your own ideas and resources to the conversation!

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A post script hot tip:  This is the time of year to look around and see if any local opera companies or choral groups are performing the Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. It's a great first opera for kids, and I wrote all about it last year in this post here!  

* * * * * *

And in case you want to hear the cannons... here's a portion of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  Hold on to you hats, though... this is the fastest performance of it I've ever heard!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thank God for Golden Oldies [or] How Pandora Saved Me From Imploding

I was primed for implosion last night. 

If you suffer from occasional bouts of self pity and no one-appreciates-me issues as I occasionally do, perhaps this scenario will sound familiar to you... 

Mom spends all morning tending to the needs of her children as well as baking two batches of cookies to stick in the freezer so that said children will have tasty snacks in the months to come. The dirty dishes pile up in the sink.

Mom spends all afternoon making a delicious and nutritious dinner.  More dirty dishes pile up in the sink. 

Entire family eats delicious dinner, puts more dirty dishes in the sink, and moves on to other activities - Chess, drawing, creating a "Bingo" game that looks nothing like a Bingo game. 

Mom can't believe that she didn't receive praise and adulation for delicious dinner and REALLY can't believe that she's left to do all the dishes that don't even all fit in the sink anymore. She really wants to leave the noise and mess behind her and just get in bed and read.  She thinks she DESERVES to be able to just get in bed and read...

That was me.  I started doing those dishes with a very unattractive scowl on my face and an even worse scowl in my soul. I tried to say a prayer about something like embracing service to my family but it fell flat.  Or maybe not - because something, or Someone - that Holy Spirit can be pretty sneaky -  moved me get an iPad and get some music going in that kitchen.  And as quickly as you can click on "Gladys Knight and the Pips," I was saved from the self-destruction for which I was headed and I managed to fall in love with my family again.  

I smiled and sang and washed dishes to Sam Cooke, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Otis Redding, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, and of course, Gladys... 

This is my soundtrack when I need a pick-me-up.  And my 50s, 60s, 70s playlist worked its magic again last night...  I was happy to be doing the dishes (even though my pregnant belly was soaking by the end of it!)  From my place at the sink I got to listen to a Father-Son Chess game, spy on a little girl sneak pieces of broccoli from her high chair, witness a boy run a Bingo game for his siblings, and I even got to take a couple breaks to dance with whoever happened to pass through the kitchen.  It was delightful!  And to think I might have missed it if I had been reading (uh, sulking) in bed.  

Is it possible that my prayer was answered by way of an internet radio service?  Maybe.  Like I said, the Holy Spirit can be sneaky! Thanks Pandora, for being (almost) commercial free and for playing what I needed to hear.  You saved me from a self-pity induced implosion.  You gave me an evening of movie-worthy background music that calmed my troubled soul.  You re-opened my eyes to how blessed and beautiful this family life really is and how sometimes the place in front of the sink of dirty dishes is the place where I need to be to see it all unfold before me.  

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And in case you love the oldies too... here are two more favorites for you  :)

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