Aug 20 2011 in Classical by admin
By Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, MPhil (copyright 2011)
Founder/President of Maestro Classics
How many people do you know that would be willing critics of the latest movie, the recent gallery show of modern paintings, or the new restaurant in the neighborhood? But if they went to a symphony orchestra concert where they slept through the second half, they would probably say, “I guess I just don’t understand classical music.” In short, some people may feel very insecure about music. If you have not taken Music 101 in college, you perhaps know very little about the subject. Now that you are an adult and have children, you read articles about “The Mozart Effect” and think that you should be playing classical music for them. But where do you begin is always the question.
The first thing to remember is that classical music should never be boring. If you are bored you have not found the piece or the performance that turns you on. It is a bit like falling in love: there are many men in the world, but how many of them would you really like to marry, or even go out with? For most of us, someone is out there, but you do have to look.
Here is my recipe for starting the classical music search:
I always recommend two places to begin if you are a total neophyte, a babe lost in the woods, when it comes to classical music, or perhaps worse, if you have had boring experiences with it in the past and you hate it. (Being forced to take piano lessons can often be the culprit.)
The first is a wonderful CD, called “Keeping the Beat,” compiled by John Feierabend, the head of the early music department at Hart College of Music. This CD has 36 two to three minute selections from composers ranging from Corelli to Kabalevsky (17th to 20th centuries) that are bouncy and upbeat. Listen, enjoy, dance with your children, and when you find a track that you particularly like, note what it is. You may have just found a composer whose music inspires you.
Thanks to the Internet, you can now go to iTunes or Amazon and find the complete work and listen to samples of every track on the recording. If you like some of them, just buy those for 99 cents. If you like them all, purchase the album. But if you find that you did not like any of them as well as the piece you heard on the Feierabend CD, do not give up. Find a different performance of the same work, namely a different orchestra or a different conductor or a different soloist. You will be amazed at how slow one recording can be and how fast and perky another one of exactly the same work can be. Listen and trust your instincts, and never purchase music that you think is “good” but you do not actually want to listen to it. After you have found just one track on one CD that you like, you have begun your classical music collection.
The second place that I recommend, and I often recommend this site to parents with teenagers, is kickassclassical.com. They have compiled a “Top 100” wherein they have chosen excellent performances of these well-known works. You will get a movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, currently number one, or one dance from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” but again, as with the Feierabend CD, you will begin to discover which composers you like. You may also be surprised to discover who composed music that you have heard before but never knew what it was. You can also check TakeLessons Reviews. Here they review and recommend different performances to help you expand your collection.
Now that you have begun your classical music collection, how do you ensure that your children will find music that they enjoy listening to? When they are very young, be sure that you play classical music that is bouncy and upbeat. Marching around the room and dancing with them is great. Do not just play slow, quiet classical music that you would use when you want them to go to sleep. Classical music is great because it has such a wide range of emotional possibilities, from exuberant to pensive, triumphant to melancholy. Try them all.
Next I would recommend music for narrator and orchestra. When Prokofiev composed “Peter and the Wolf” in 1936, he understood, that while music could tell a story all by itself – we call that programmatic music – if children were a told the story as the music was being played, they would be captivated by the story and, at the same time, be given the opportunity to understand how music can add emotional depth to the words. No child should ever grow up without hearing “Peter and the Wolf.” This is often the only work of classical music that many adults know, and 30 years later they still can sing the melodies and recognize the oboe because they heard it as the Duck all those years ago. This is a testament to the work, to the genre of narrator and orchestra, and to the young age at which they heard the work, probably over and over again.
The work, the age, the genre: When years ago, my husband, conductor Stephen Simon, and I decided that “Peter and the Wolf” should be offered every year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, we also decided that there needed to be more works for narrator and orchestra that children would remember for a lifetime. We began the “Stories in Music” project where we created new works in this genre. For years, parents came backstage after performances and said, “I bought my tickets because we wanted to hear ‘Peter and the Wolf’ but we really loved ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘Mike Mulligan.’ Where can we find a CD?” and we ruefully told them that no such CDs existed. They had heard essentially an original piece of art; perhaps it would be performed again in 5 or 6 years, but otherwise, that was it. Finally, in 2004, we made the decision to record these works with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Each CD also includes tracks on the history of the work and the composer, the conductor talking about what to listen for in the music, a participatory track, and a “fun” track where the theme is transformed into jazz, Russian folk, marching band, or even heavy metal. Music is broad and we want children to understand that “good” music can be found in all genres.
The other wonderful CDs with classical music and stories is the older series created by Susan Hammond in Canada. “Mr. Bach Comes to Call” and “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” are now 30 years old, but continue to be classics.
It is important that you share music that you like with your children. Like reading, if you read, they will probably read; if you listen, they will probably listen. If you have a teenager who might hold his nose as you discuss classical music, send him/her to KickAssClassical.com and suggest he or she listen until they find something they like, then give them 99-cents to buy it. If you did this every week, you would be astounded at the music they would begin to know. Knowledge is power. If you have a younger child, seduce him or her with a Maestro Classics CD that I guarantee both of you will enjoy, and you will be surprised at how much you learn as well. In a society where we spend so much time in our cars, listening to good music together can make these hours pass quickly and plant musical memories that will last a lifetime.
Learn more about Bonnie and Stephen: Maestro Classics