Classical Music and Children
Musical experiences for young children must include classical music in addition to the music we usually associate with the early childhood classroom. Some children in your classroom may be growing up in homes where classical music is played and appreciated. These children are indeed fortunate. For those children who are growing up on a minimal musical diet of rock-and-roll, rap, or “oldies,” you may be the only resource for extending their musical experiences and the appreciation that comes from exposure to classical music. Research indicates that early association with classical music can increase children’s enjoyment of music as an art form and increase children’s aesthetic awareness (Cecil and Lauritzen, 1994).
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950), a Swiss composer and harmony professor at the Geneva Conservatory at the turn of the century, thought of movement as a way of using the body as a “musical instrument” and believed that body movement was a counterpart to musical expression. He further believed that early musical intelligence could be encouraged by using one’s body in conjunction with musical responsiveness. This understanding can be facilitated by drawing on the “universal language” of classical music: “Music is significant for us as human beings principally because it embodies movement of a specifically human type that goes to the roots of our being and takes shape in the inner gestures which embody our deepest and most intimate responses” (Jaques- Dalcroze, 1921, p. 129).
Classical music can be naturally infused into the early childhood classroom in a variety of ways, from playing Bach’s Preludes during quiet activities to marching around the room to the “March of the Toys” from Herbert’s Babes in Toyland.
Classical music comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes, and a few of the different styles available to you and your children are mentioned here. In addition to the symphony, there are sonatas, string quartets, concertos, concertinas, trios, and dances—and let’s not forget opera. Opera has increased in popularity through the years, probably because the combination of music, movement, and speech are inseparably presented in ways that seem to touch our humanity. When opera is mentioned to students, they are often unexcited about studying opera because of lack of exposure or unpleasant experience. No one expects you to become an opera fan or that you introduce opera to your children in any formal kind of way. However, give yourself a gentle nudge and do not discount the idea of playing opera as quiet background music in your classroom. Children may not even notice that you have included a different type of music into your musical selections, but nevertheless you will have broadened their exposure to yet another classical form. Many years ago, after hearing selections from Madame Butterfly on several occasions during quiet time, a 5-year-old went up to the teacher and said that the lady’s voice made her sleepy! What more could a kindergarten teacher ask for during quiet time?
Classical music must be played in early childhood classrooms right along with Hap Palmer and Ella Jenkins. As McGirr tells us, “Too often, early childhood programs use only children’s music, nursery rhymes, fingerplays and light, short humorous pieces, all played mainly on popular instruments. Young children are capable of much more sophisticated listening” (1995, p. 75). Exposure to classical music affords children unique opportunities to enjoy a whole complement of musical experiences and puts them in touch with a wide range of musical expression. “Even the youngest child, when given a proper chance, will respond sensitively to the music of great composers—Palestrina, Beethoven, Strauss, or Prokofiev— and should never be limited solely to a musical diet of fingerplays and one-line songs” (Franks, 1983, p. 54). Without exposure to the great classical composers and their music, we cannot expect children to develop an appreciation for all music. Furthermore, without this opportunity, some children may not find out that classical music exists until they are young adults and find themselves in a college-level music appreciation class. We must encourage even the youngest children to listen to a variety of music, including classical, if we want them to develop musical appreciation in the broadest context.
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