School music programs are on the decline, so parents often ask me one of two questions: Why bother trying to expose kids to classical music (and other arts)? And, what resources are there for exposing kids to classical music?
We should “bother” to expose children to classical music (and all of the other arts) simply because more exposure to high-end artistic pursuits helps kids to develop more complex thought processes, creative problem-solving, a better understanding of the world, a context for historical subject matter, a sense of wonder and appreciation, and a broader perspective on their place in society.
In short – the more children know, the more they know.
For a wonderful historical text on the demise of classical music (and literature and art) in American culture, please read Highbrow/Lowbrow by Lawrence Levine. It is a spectacular and eye-opening book. It’s also an easy read.
In my opinion, children’s (and adults’, for that matter) lack of appreciation for classical music is due primarily to a lack of exposure. It has been my experience that children, especially very young ones, are delighted by all new experiences. When they hear a “classical” musical instrument for the first time, their eyes get wider, they want to touch it, and they wriggle and giggle with the thrill of a new discovery. Parents, however, often impose their own fears and biases on the children and the new-found appreciation is quickly thwarted. Adults think if there are no cartoon characters or “child-friendly” musical themes involved, the kids will hate the experience, so they avoid exposing their children to the arts altogether.
I have been a classical flutist for forty years, and I have never had a young child react negatively to hearing the flute for the first time. They, instead, reach out to touch the keys to see how it works, or cover their ears and squeal when I show them how high the notes go. At my music school, children often lead their parents through the doors to look at the piano in the front room. I love to take a few minutes to show them how it works, but the parent almost always projects a negative reaction to the child, “You would hate practicing,” or “Learning an instrument is too much work.” I often wonder if they realize that they just nipped a sense of wonder in the bud.
Dwindling arts programs have left a gaping hole in children’s exposure to the arts, but parents can absolutely and easily fill that void. All they have to do is demonstrate excitement about the arts. Take the children to an art museum, symphony concert, ballet, opera (kids LOVE opera!), a modern dance show, a big band performance. There are lots of inexpensive ways to do so: most college/university/conservatory performances are free, professional matinees are often discounted, many museums have special free hours either weekly or monthly, local community music schools have live faculty concerts, sometimes there is even live music at museums! Sure, children have short attention spans, so just plan to leave at an opportune moment – there is no need to stay for an entire performance. Parents could also watch videos with their young ones or listen to recordings and dance around the house. Any recording could be used to demonstrate loud versus quiet sections, fast versus slow tempos, happy versus sad moods, and many other discoveries.
Someone recently asked me to recommend a specific recording that would be good for introducing kids to classical music. Sting and The Chamber Orchestra of Europe did a lovely recording of Peter and the Wolf several years ago. Start with that! Then, try anything by Holst, Copland, Bernstein, and every other composer you can come up with.
If parents and children could simply have fun exploring classical music and all of the arts, kids would grow up with great family memories, lots of enriching experiences, a passion for creativity, and a love of classical music. Don’t be afraid – just grab your family and dive right in!