Classical music for children…


When we eat I, more often than not, put some music on and for a while the boys bop about whilst eating their tomato sandwiches, boogie while chewing and occasionally we get a full on rave type hands in the air moment when the music gets particularly exciting. They’ve left their chairs to have a quick dance coming back to finish their meals. I like it. It’s fun and it makes us all smile.

Currently we’re listening to Seth Lakemen and they love his folk music about tales from around the British Isles from way back in history. ‘The White Hare’ is about the legend of a witch who turns into a white hare at night with its eyes shining bright and ‘The Colliers’ which has a very catchy chorus telling the workers to ‘Hold Your Fire’ and I tell them that it’s about a colliery accident where many people died. My favourite is ‘Band of Gold’ which is about a maiden and her love getting married and wearing the band of gold as a symbol of eternal love. I took my wedding ring off and let the boys try it on telling them that they might wear one of these when they are older and that the left hand finger was significant because it was believed that there was a direct link to the heart. They loved it, they loved the symbol of unbroken eternal love and I loved the romanticism of it all in the melody.

I believe it’s possible to get children into classical music from a very early age. In fact it’s a perfect age as they take the music for whatever they think it is bringing no preconceptions about it into their thinking. There are some very easy ways to slowly drip feed their interest though as I’m not sure they’d really want to sit and watch a full symphony at the age of 3…

I vary the music we have on at mealtimes. It’s on in the background and slowly sinks into their psyche. Eating gives them something else to focus on so they never get bored by the music. They move to it without realising they are moving and we chat about normal family things. I’ll mention what the piece of music’s called, if there’s an interesting fact I’ll share it and if there’s a story I’ll tell it as they listen. They next couple of times I’ll say ‘oh, this is that piece of music that’s meant to make you think of a swan floating down a river’ or ‘I just can’t sit still to this and I notice you can’t too!’ The music becomes familiar, like an old friend and something they like.

I took them to the science museum the other day and after the rockets, spacemen and steam engines we found, rather by accident, an amazing exhibition where you pass through black curtains to darkened spaces that have music stands with sheet music on and films of instrumentalists playing in real time the music that was being played into the rooms. The music was loud and the boys not only heard it but they felt it through every fibre of their body. I told them this was music was about the planets in this piece in particular was called ‘Mars, the bringer of war’ That did it. They were hooked and looking around they saw the musicians furiously playing with such an intensity they were astonished. They laid on the floor looking at the ceiling, the got up and danced about and at one point they even had a mock battle –well, Mars is the bringer of war. At no point did anyone say they should sit down, shush (they weren’t really making any noise but adults do like to worry) and just watch the ‘performance’ they lived the music and I was, at one point, getting quite emotional watching them (there goes my artistic temperament again…). Moving through the exhibit we found a lady sat playing her clarinet. The boys watched her very intrigued by what she was doing and after the piece had finished they chatted to her about the instrument she played and asked ‘is that you on the screen??’ She was fab and had them hooked. Apparently other instrumentalists played throughout the days before and ahead. It was a shame that this was just the day we could do.

Round another corner we saw a conductor’s stand set up with a camera that followed movement and watching the TV ahead they boys had a go at conducting the orchestra. Ollie was frustrated as he couldn’t quite get it right but did remember the strange fact that the first ever conductor –Jean Baptiste Lully – used a pole and not a white baton that he unfortunately stabbed his foot with that became gangrenous and he later died. I can take the credit away from ‘Stupid Deaths’ from Horrible Histories as I had told my boys this months before…

They loved this exhibition and it was one of the favourites of the day. They talked about the lady playing the clarinet, the instruments on the screens but above all the volume of the music. They hadn’t experienced anything like that before as the surround sound that filled their bodies had them amazed by how it made them feel.

I’ve now booked the tickets to see fantasia at the Albert Hall because I think they’ll really enjoy it but I do have a few things to do before we go. I’ll buy the music and put it on in the background while they eat and let them hear it a few times. I’ll let them see the film as they will know the music and then they’ll associated it with the action. This gives them a mental picture to think of when we’re in the Albert Hall and a reference point to hang their experiences off of. I’ll chat with them about the Hall and what will happen (this is more for the younger 2 as Ollie has been before) I’ll show them where the orchestra will sit, that they have to be quiet and not shout even if it’s a bit they really like! (This may be hard for Tobes though but it is billed as Disney’s Fantasia and is an afternoon concert so they must be expecting young children) Hubbie and I will have expectations that they younger 2 may only last until the interval and then it will be time for them to leave and we will do this as to overdo a good time always leaves things wide open to the usual boys type ‘dicking about’. Hubbie will take them out whilst I sit with Ollie and keep them amused but they may surprise us and that’s fine so we’ll take it from them.

I really want them to know about classical music. To be able to name some of the instruments and recognise how they sound. I want them to experience the full force of an orchestra live and not just on the telly. The spectacle of all the musicians furiously playing to create the amazing sound they can hear I hope is something that will spark in them a lifelong interest in music. They don’t have to be a concert pianist to enjoy music or even deserve to go and see it live. Music can make you feel sadness, joy and it can make you think. You can want to share music with someone you love but above all it can connect you to feelings deep within you that you may never know you even had.

Classical music is for young children as much as adults. They can listen well and can come out with fabulous ideas as to what they think of it. They can make up wonderful stories to go along with the mood of the music and they can create beautiful works of art whilst listening (try it, put some music on and let them paint, you might be amazed at how you can see what they were listening to) they don’t view it as elitist, ‘posh’ or not for them. I would make sure that they aren’t asked to sit for long periods of time just listening to the music on a CD as we have to remember as adults we very rarely do this ourselves so to expect young children to do this is unrealistic. Give them an activity and let the music fill the space around them without them even knowing. Bop around the kitchen, rave at the dinner table but do it all with passion, feeling and a great big smile on your face…

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About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
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One Response to Classical music for children…

  1. Jo philippart says:

    Seth lakeman is amazing, saw him live last year, my boys like him too, especially my youngest

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