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Classical Music – A New Way to Teach It

  • Marjorie Persons
  • 2007 27 Feb
Classical Music – A New Way to Teach It

Have you found a classical music program that works for your preschool children as well as for your older children? Do they become excited about classical music? Since classical music is much more complex than popular music, children need some special way to "connect" to it.

Theme Recognition
In order to listen to classical music with understanding and pleasure, children, as well as adults, must recognize the main themes, the melodies. As a music teacher, I tried many different ways to teach classical music. The children liked the music, but there was no great excitement. Then, just for fun, I wrote simple lyrics for a few classical music themes. They included the names of both composer and composition. These were the themes the children asked to sing again and again. They loved them, remembered them, and wanted to play them on an instrument. I have found that theme recognition is a "must" and that lyrics are the key to remembering classical music themes. Lyrics make the abstract concrete.

Developing and Producing a Curriculum
I was very disturbed with much of the popular music bombarding the ears of our children. I knew that if I could "hook" children on classical music when they are very young, they would have a lifetime adventure with quality music. It would enrich their entire lives. It became a mission for me to develop a curriculum and produce the materials to achieve my objectives.

As I look back, I am amazed at how God worked in our lives to provide the people we needed to make the project work. My husband, a retired engineer, and I volunteered to spend two years in Oaxaca, Mexico, with Wycliffe Bible Translators teaching the children of missionaries. He taught science and math, and I taught history, literature, and music. While there I wrote lyrics to 100 of the most beautiful classical music themes and taught them to my students. I was amazed at how quickly they learned the themes and how well they remembered them. These lyrics became the foundation of my program.

One of my literature students sat in my classes every day and drew. When I was teaching Beowulf, he was drawing dragons and Viking ships! I was a bit peeved until I asked him questions and found that he had indeed been listening. I let him draw. He is now in graduate school studying Bible history and youth ministry. He is the creative young artist who draws the delightful illustrations for our books.

When we returned to the United States, we formed a company, Classical Magic, to produce and publish our books with CDs and related teaching materials. We found a local Christian recording studio and music students from nearby Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, to record the music and lyrics on CDs that are included in each book.

We also needed a portrait artist and had no idea where to find one. An acquaintance of one of our daughters happened to be a professional portrait artist. She produced the 41 wonderful composer portraits in the books.

An illustrator, a recording studio, musicians, and a portrait artist--not an accident. God provided all we needed to accomplish our mission.

Teaching Materials
The Classical Magic® series includes four library-quality books with CDs: Themes to Remember, Volumes 1 and 2; Classical Karaoke for Kids; and Antonin Dvorák, From the New World, with Lyrics. Teacher's guides, enlarged composer portraits, and reproducibles of lyrics with illustrations enhance the program.

The Basic Program
I have found that adults are sometimes so serious about classical music that they get bogged down with concepts and composer facts, and the children tune out! I urge teachers to remember that theme and composer recognition is basic and that lyrics are the best way to remember classical music themes. We must "hook" children on the themes first and teach concepts later. It is important to teach many themes quickly to build excitement for and love of classical music.

One of the best strategies is to use games. Each classical music theme has two CD tracks, the first with music only and the second with music and lyrics. This format works well for "Name That Tune." Children feel good when they can identify a classical music theme and name the composer.

Add a karaoke element to the fun. If a child names the tune, let him sing a solo with the music. A microphone, real or pretend, will often change shy children into entertainers.

Children love to show adults how much they know. A mother told me that during a TV commercial her kindergarten child's eyes lit up as she exclaimed, "Mom, listen! That's Beethoven's Fifth." She was right.

Another mother told me that when her children watch Looney Tunes, they are continually recognizing classical music themes. She's heard, "Mom, that's Schubert's Unfinished symphony," or "That's Strauss's Blue Danube waltz."

Children will recognize classical music in malls, commercials, cartoons, cell phones, and especially in Looney Tunes. You'll be amazed when they tell you that they are hearing Mozart or Haydn or Wagner.

Beyond the Basics
Once children have learned the basic themes and are excited about classical music, it is easy to incorporate it into your curriculum.

• Read the lyrics while singing to develop the rhythm of the language and promote fluency.
• Use the lyrics to find beginning sounds and rhyming words.
• Use the lyrics to build vocabulary.
• Motivate children to read great literature and mythology, ballet and opera stories, biographies, and folktales.

History, Geography, and Cultures
• Piano (a quiet kitty) and Forte (a rather noisy little dog) appear in illustrations throughout the books. They introduce each musical period dressed in clothing of that period. The music periods can become a historical filing system for other subjects.
• Use maps to find the homelands of the composers and the setting for myths and folktales.
• Through the lyrics and lives of the composers, children learn about other cultures and countries in the world.

The Arts: Drama, Dance
• Many lyrics lend themselves to actions or mini-dramas. Encourage children to use their imaginations.
• Stories such as that of Peer Gynt in the Hall of the Mountain King are made for drama.
• Children can draw or paint as they listen to the recorded music.
• Use marionettes, nutcrackers, scarves, rhythm instruments, and flags.
• Interact with the music--dance, march, sway, or make up actions.

Music Concepts
Once you have children excited about classical music, you can teach music concepts and analyze and describe the music. This is an option for those who want their children to be more informed about music. The books define musical terms, and the teacher's guides give aid on how to teach many concepts.

The Classical Magic program includes many types of classical music--symphonies, sonatas, concertos, operas, ballets, and serenades, to name a few. It includes many stories that children can read. The books are organized by musical period, but I suggest that you select the easiest themes first. A recommended order of teaching is included in the Teacher's Guide for Volume 1 and on our website.

You may feel that you can't add anything more to your curriculum. Let classical music help you save time and have more fun. Play themes at the start of the day to improve moods. Use it as a reward after a hard session of work. Very few themes are more than one minute long. They will take very little time from a busy schedule. Sing along in the car. It makes the time fly and improves attitudes.

No previous music experience is needed to use the program. It works especially well for homeschoolers since you can play the music every day, not just on "music day."

The Goal
The aim of Classical Magic is to develop intelligent, joyful listeners of classical music. The lyrics are tools to inspire children to listen to fully orchestrated music of complete works.

Antonin Dvorák's From the New World, with lyrics, prepares a child for listening to the complete symphony. The fully illustrated book includes a kid-friendly biography of Dvorák in prose and in lyrics. Once children know the lyrics, they can listen with joy and understanding to the complete symphony. The fully orchestrated symphony is included on the CD that comes with the book. For children in the early elementary grades, it works best to let them draw scenes from Dvorák's life as they listen. For the upper grades, a listening guide for each movement helps to identify the themes, the instruments they hear, and the development of the themes.

Beethoven's Fifth is another easy symphony for children to listen to. It is only 35 minutes long, and the themes are easy to distinguish. The theme for the first movement is in Volume 1. Volume 2 has themes for the second and third movements, and the fourth movement can be found in Classical Karaoke for Kids. The complete symphony is not included in the books, but any classical music store can supply it for you.

Haydn's Clock symphony is about a mean cat, Adagio, who is trying to catch a little mouse named Allegro. Of course, Adagio will never catch Allegro because Allegro is faster than Adagio! Classical Karaoke for Kids has lyrics for all four movements. The lyrics are humorous, and children love to read with the lyrics in the book. Then they are ready to listen to a fully orchestrated recording of the symphony.

Classical music is a "must" in any home curriculum. Even if you do only the basic theme recognition program, classical music will enrich every area of study. Introduce children to the very best when they are very young. You'll find it is easy to do, and it will expand your horizons as well as those of your children.

Please visit our website at www.classicalmagic.net.

As a retirement mission, Marjorie Persons, with her husband Clyde, publish books with CDs to make classical music accessible to all children. Marjorie presents workshops in both homeschool and public school conferences. An experienced teacher, she has majors in religious education, elementary, secondary, and music education, as well as English literature. She and her husband spent two years teaching missionary children in Mexico with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in Winter 2006/7. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com

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