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Classical 101

Creating Ways to Expose Kids to Classical Music

Children are sponges. They eagerly soak in everything, except maybe broccoli. So instead of looking to the 40-to-50 set to find the future generation of people we all hope will fall in love with classical music, maybe we should look at tweens and younger, those in their years of greatest receptivity to the world and all it has to offer. In a recent post, Susan Elkin, an arts blogger for Britain's Independent, marveled at the English National Ballet's new venture to bring abridged versions of classic ballets to English schools. "What interests me particularly about this," Elkin writes,  "is that it will expose hundreds of children to the sound of classical music and I bet many will come out with Tchaikovsky’s waltz tunes rattling around in their fertile young heads." (Emphasis mine.) Elkin went on to report that a primary school in north Kent plays classical music over loudspeakers in its hallways so children can hear it as they walk around the school. That school even has a board in the corridor displaying the composer and title of the musical work being played at a given moment. I like it. Classical music through the back door, so to speak. Enriching children's lives by giving classical music a comforting presence in them. What are some things we in the U.S. can do to to infuse children's lives with classical music? Here are a few ideas, off the top of my head:

  • Playing classical music radio at home. (No, I truly am not biased!) Classical music radio might just be the best way to expose kids (or adults, for that matter) to the art form's full spectrum of styles and sounds. Classical music radio provides a widely varied soundtrack: some Vivaldi right now, but next, maybe some Wagner or Haydn - a subtle and pleasant form of total immersion: what a great way to get music into your blood.
  • As early in children's lives as possible, enroll them in dance classes where they get to dance to good - i.e. classical - music. Not only will they hear this music, they will embody it in their movement; it will literally get under their skin. The benefits of this early exercise and body awareness - as well as the sounds of the music - will stay with kids for life. Speaking personally, I learned by first Chopin waltzes and mazurkas in ballet class, heard my first Tchaikovsky there, too.
  • Create opportunities for children to have fun conversations with musicians - professional musicians at concerts, music teachers, college music majors, etc. These chats could take any number of forms; the important thing is that kids have a good experience talking with kind, fun adults who are also musicians well aware of the importance of demonstrating that music is fun.
  • Lobby for more support (in every sense) for the arts - all of them - in our public schools. Basic musical instruction of more uniform quality in schools throughout the country would be a good start. Innovative multidisciplinary use/exploration of music for learners at all levels would be the general goal to strive for, curricular programming that gives students opportunities to learn how to write by writing poetry or prose about music, that gives children (especially very young ones) exercise by having them make up dance moves to classical music, where art teachers play classical music during art class and maybe even encourage students to create visual art based on what they hear, where math teachers and music teachers work together to teach students about "musical math" (lots of great opportunities for teaching fractions, among other concepts) and let them hear it as it's happening. The list of possibilities is endless.
  • Parents can foster their children's musical involvement outside of school by setting up the occasional music and movement play group play date (obviously for very young children) and encouraging their kids who are learning how to play instruments to practice occasionally with one or two of their musical friends. They don't call it "playing" for nothing.

Now I want to hear from you. How do you think we can expose kids to classical music in school, at home and in the world? Read more: Children Are Missing Out on Classical Music (Independent)