Our children enjoy making movies. They spend hours writing scripts, making costumes and props, filming, and editing. But the movie isn’t finished until they find just the right music to add to the various scenes. It’s so much fun to listen to them excitedly describe how a particular piece by Wagner fits so perfectly with a scene’s action!
“How do they know about Wagner?” you ask. (And how do they know that his name is pronounced VAHG-NER instead of WAYG-NER?) Through a simple habit we’ve established in our house. Here’s how it works:
Choose one composer and listen to his music for six weeks. Play it in the background when you’re eating a meal. Listen to it in the car while you’re running errands. Let the children listen to it at bedtime as they fall asleep, if they want to. When you play the music during those six weeks, casually mention the composer’s name: “Let’s listen to some Bach.”
That’s it. That’s the profoundly difficult habit we’ve established to teach our children about music composers.
“It can’t be that easy,” you say.
I’m sorry. It is. But since you might want a longer post than that this month, here are a few tips and optional activities to consider.
- To get started, collect recordings that feature the work of one composer. Get a CD that has music by only Bach, for instance. Or find a tape of only Beethoven. Check your local library, bookstore bargain sections, dollar stores, discount stores, and online bookstores.
- One thing we finally figured out was to start the tape or CD in various places throughout those six weeks. If you always start at the first song, you’ll know that song quite well but none of the others!
- If you want to, sometime during those six weeks read a brief and interesting biography about the composer. Notice those two key words: “brief” and “interesting.” See the Resources section below for some specific recommendations.
- Be on the lookout for local concerts that present your featured (or a previously studied) composer’s works.
- Some families like to create a music notebook. They include a page or two about each composer with which they have become familiar, including a picture, a list of songs, ticket stubs for concerts they’ve attended that featured his music, and whatever else they want to put into it.
- Sometimes let the children draw what they think the music is picturing or move like the music makes them want to move. (My teenagers still have one particular Strauss polka that gets them up and running around the kitchen!)
- Keep the tapes and CDs available. Once you finish the six weeks of listening to a single composer, add that CD to your family collection and allow the children to listen to it whenever they want to. Soon that composer will become an “old friend” to them.
- By all means, make this habit casual and a natural part of your family life. The goal is not to analyze each composer and his works; the goal is to enjoy and appreciate good music together. Becoming familiar with a composer’s style and works is a natural benefit of spending six weeks with him. Don’t force it.
Q & A
Q: Which composer should I start with?
A: There’s really no right or wrong answer to that question. Simply choose a composer and dive in, following the simple method outlined above. To help you get started, here is a list of some of our favorites. The list is in alphabetical order, not necessarily the order in which we think you should study these composers. Start with any one of them — and enjoy.
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Ludwig von Beethoven
- Johannes Brahms
- Frederic Chopin
- Claude Debussy
- Antonin Dvorak
- Edvard Grieg
- George Frideric Handel
- Joseph Haydn
- Franz Liszt
- Felix Mendelssohn
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Franz Schubert
- Robert Schumann
- John Phillips Sousa
- Johann Strauss II
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Giuseppe Verdi
- Antonio Vivaldi
- Richard Wagner
Q: Should I focus on only classical composers?
A: You don’t have to. Classical music is a great place to start, but it’s not the ultimate standard. While many classical works are wonderful, I cannot give a blanket recommendation for all of classical music. The Bible must be our standard. When choosing music to listen to, consider these Biblical principles:
- God is not the author of confusion. Music that is constantly chaotic, dissonant, and confusing does not help us glorify God.
- Be aware of how the music makes you feel. Some pieces inspire our hearts to greatness and noble thoughts, while others stir up rebellious and selfish emotions.
- Avoid music that urges you to move in an immodest manner.
- Listen critically to lyrics. Make sure they don’t contradict Scripture and promote ungodly living.