Thinking of Children and Youth in the context of classical music, a couple of things immediately come to mind: The Venezuelan project El Sistema, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the movie To Play and To Fight (Tocar y Luchar), the gorgeous children's picture book Zin-Zin-Zin a Violin, my childhood with concerts in our home and visits to the nearby theatre, the British school-children program “Building on Excellence” and last but not least the question how to introduce classical music to children.
Introducing children to classical music involves not only playing some CDs of “Baby Mozart” when they are infants. It is a lifestyle involving the whole family. It can be observed, that in classical music families children tend to keep their taste within the classical genre.
We personally often listened to classical music, like but not limited to the Six Most Famous Piano Concertos, the Four Most Played Violin Concertos, the Three Most Famous Symphonies and of course Mozart’s Requiem. Both, my husband and I came from classical music families and received 12 years classical piano education as children, however, we did not buy a piano for our household. For children songs and Christmas, we just sang and I played chords on my guitar. When our youngest was one year and 10 months, we were invited at a friend’s house whose youngest celebrated her 5th birthday. The little girl celebrant had started violin lessons some months ago with the Suzuki-method. She was so proud that she mastered all the Twinkle-Twinkle-Variations that she played it again and again to her enthusiastic audience. Since then, our little boy selected one piece of wood and a stick, and every day, he tucked-in the piece of wood under his chin, and moved the stick over it while humming. It soon rang a bell and we purchased a small violin for his 5 years older brother whom we enrolled at the violin school. Our little one still continued for a while with the pieces of wood before we moved him to a real violin. Ever since, our boys are both enthusiastic violin players, concert-goers and glowing about different concert recordings. And to get it right: they are definitely far from being anything like prodigies.
Sometimes it seems that a special event kicks-off the interest for classical music or an instrument. Sometimes, the interest in classical music might just grow gradually over time of experiencing it, like in my own life. Whatever it is, studies have shown, that people whose parents listen to classical music do much more often love classical music too. It is fantastic, if parents and teachers are passionate about classical music and share their passion by listening or watching recordings together and taking the children with them to the opera and concerts.
Learning an Instrument and Practicing
Watching classical performers might soon inspire children to learn an instrument. This is a great opportunity for parents to get involved into a whole new world: Children need to be encouraged and praised, motivated and inspired. Children need to feel special and rewarded through music making. We believe that for sure practice is sometimes hard and children have to overcome obstacles but that parents should never force children to continue playing. Instead, parents should provide continuous motivation, stimulation, inspiration, praise and very much routine and consistency. With this, children easily understand the world of music, learn to listen more differentiated and develop a love and passion for their instrument.
Supporting children with practice means for Suzuki that parents should start the same instrument like the child at the same time. This is a great bonding time to share together. In our case, I took up Cello only some time after our kids have started violin. Although we did not exactly follow the idea of Suzuki, it has always been great seeing each other working hard on improving the sound and it is still great fun to perform pieces together in our little concerts in our home.
Practice is easiest and works best when it becomes a natural habit, a common routine during the daily schedule. There may be discussions of which is the best, either setting a certain timespan like 30 minutes to be practiced, setting a specific number like 5 times that each piece should be played or setting a goal like 8 measures without mistakes. Whatever the best way is, most motivating for children is their own success, their accomplishment of which they can be proud of. With a weekly and later even daily practice routine at a certain time of the day, this is naturally achieved without the need for any other rewards.
Living in a community where other kids also play instruments is a great inspiration, especially when recitals are performed by playing all together like in the Japanese Suzuki method. The children have the opportunity to chat with each other about their instruments and pieces and also to talk to professional musicians.
Another huge motivating impact for one of our sons came, when he was old enough to be given an around 100 year old good sounding violin. Children really hear the difference. His practice motivation was very much increased and he loves and cares for his instrument ever since.
Of course we visit concerts, preferably violin concerts. Besides that, recordings may also be of inspiration. A great inspiring recording for us has been the 6th Symphony of Tchaikovsky performed by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Sadly, the record is not found on Youtube anymore and it has not been published in an official DVD. Abbado conducted it as if it was his own life. Our little son was 6 at the time he saw this video first. He gasped for breath when the applause came. Then he asked with shaking voice if the conductor died after the performance. Sadly, Abbado died January 20, 2014. And we talked about Tchaikovsky, who indeed died 9 days after he conducted premiere of this symphony.
Another motivating record for us has always been Nigel Kennedy Live Vivaldi Live a la Citadelle, a DVD in which the fun of playing together is captured fantastically. It is so much fun watching and listening, that even non-classical audiences are entranced. We also love seeing Victoria Mulova as she won the Sibelius Violin Competition in 1980 in Helsinki with the Sibelius violin concerto in D minor. Another inspiring record is her concert in 1999 in the St. Nicolai Church in Leipzig playing Bach’s Chaconne from the partita in D minor.
For us, the most fantastic opera performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni is with Simon Keenlyside. We found the most inspiring Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky in the Emile Ardolino Film with the New York City Ballet and Haensel und Gretel of Humperdinck by Deutsche Grammophon.
Pianist Lang Lang says, he became motivated to learn piano at the age of 2 by The Cat Concerto, an episode of Tom and Jerry.
Generating curiosity with Children's Picture Books
Some children's picture books are great in generating curiosity of little children about music and instruments. One of those is the gorgeous book "Zin-Zin-Zin a Violin" mentioned above. Author Lloyd Moss's irresistible rhymes and Marjorie Pricemans's energetic illustrations make beautiful music together: a masterpiece that is the perfect introduction to musical instruments and musical groups, and a counting book that redefines the genre.
Another fantastic picture book is "The Man with the Violin". It is based
on the true story of Joshua Bell, the renowned American violinist who famously
took his instrument down into the Washington D.C. subway for a free concert.
More than a thousand commuters rushed by him, but only seven stopped to listen
for more than a minute. In The Man With the Violin, bestselling
author Kathy Stinson has woven a heart-warming story that reminds us all to
stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. The little boy Dylan is someone who notices
things. His mom is someone who doesn't. So try as he might, Dylan can't get his
mom to listen to the man playing the violin in the subway station. But Dylan is
swept away by the soaring and swooping notes that fill the air as crowds of
oblivious people rush by. With the beautiful music in his head all day long,
Dylan can't forget the violinist, and finally succeeds in making his mother
stop and listen, too. Vividly imagined text combined with
illustrations that pulse with energy and movement expertly demonstrate the
transformative power of music. With an afterword explaining Joshua Bell's
story, and a postscript by Joshua Bell himself.
Movies for Teens
Once children are already teenagers, they may want to take their peers to operas, ballets and concerts, sometimes with and at other times without parents. They may need encouragement to join a youth orchestra or they may need parents' support to switch to a higher qualified music teacher or school.
Great family movie evenings with older teens are also a good source of inspiration and could include films about composers, like "The Music Lovers", the dramatic movie about Tchaikovsky by Igor Talankin. Or "Amadeus", the gripping drama about Mozart. We also love to watch the controversial movie "Kinski Paganini" with Klaus Kinski as Paganini and director of the movie. And definitely a must see is the new movie about Paganini: "The Devil's Violinist" with David Garrett.
One of our favorites for great movie evenings is “Diva”, the thrilling crime film of Jean-Jacques Beineix with Richard Bohringer. In the focus of the movie is the beautiful aria “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” of the opera La Wally of Alfredo Catalani (Italian, 1854-1893). The aria is sung by soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez in the role of Diva. She later performed in Paris in La Bohème with Plácido Domingo and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
To further increase the interest of your children and teens into the world of classical music, documentaries are of great support, for example "Janine" by Paul Cohen.
Please visit our Aria Store Category "Classical Music Movies"
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