In case all those Baby Mozart CDs weren’t enough to tip you off, classical music is undergoing a renaissance. Faced with declining audiences, school budgets trimmed to exclude music classes, and a society obsessed with teeny-bopper celebrities, the classical music industry decided to fight back rather than roll over. Today, children have more opportunity than ever before to explore the world of classical music.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has established youth orchestras in city neighborhoods and distributes free musical instruments and lessons to local children. The San Francisco Symphony now sponsors “Adventures in Music,” a program that provides free musical education in every one of the city’s public elementary school classrooms. The Seattle Opera works with 30 local high schools and offers presentations that kids can identify with – for example, a snippet of Wagner’s Ring Cycle performed in English and accompanied by piano rather than the full orchestra.
“When children are exposed to different styles of music in a non-judgmental and non-hierarchical way (i.e. not presenting one kind of music as ‘better’ than another kind,) children will respond in the joyous way they do as they experience so much of life,” says Ron Gallman, Director of Education and Youth Orchestra at the San Francisco Symphony. The Symphony sponsors www.SFSKids.com, an interactive website for kids.
Non-bricks and mortar programs have enjoyed similar success. “WGUC started Classics for Kids in 1998 as an educational outreach project to help fulfill the station’s mission to bring classical music to the next generation of listeners,” says Chris Phelps, Vice-President of Marketing for Cincinnati Public Radio. “Classics for Kids has grown from a radio show … to a radio show with a multimedia website (www.classicsforkids.com) including games, a musical dictionary, podcasts, and lesson plans.”
Even with all these wonderful programs, you’re still your child’s best teacher. Here are some ideas to inspire the budding classical music fan in your child:
- Put the music where your mouth is. The best way to instill respect for classical music is to appreciate it yourself. Tune into the classical music station in the car, borrow a CD from the library, or enjoy a waltz in the living room.
- The fabled “Mozart effect” has been overstated; listening to classical music won’t make your child smarter. But learning to perform it might. Research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument is a brain-building exercise.
- Studying the lives of famous composers and performers may make it easier for your child to relate to their music. Did you know Mozart started composing at the age of five?
- Perform a “symphony drill” before attending that first live performance. The audience has to sit still, listen quietly, and pay attention – all skills that will serve your child well in school.
- Seek out performances designed for kids. Three to try: Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and the Disney classic Fantasia, featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra, all of which have stories you can read ahead of time.
- Metropolitan Opera not in your budget? Try the orchestra at your local college, a community opera house, standing-only tickets, or even a free performance on www.youtube.com.
Classical music is sometimes presented as the spinach of the music world – edifying, but not enjoyable. Today, many families are finding that it’s more like a juicy plum or a ripe pear – nutritious and delicious. And there’s no better time to start savoring it.