Saturday, September 20, 2008

Classical music for kids

I had written on why I think kids should learn music. But I think even more basic than that is listening to and learning to appreciate music. In fact, I would say it’s probably more important to be able to appreciate music than to be able to play an instrument, although both would be ideal.

By music here, I’m referring to western classical music. If you want a definitive reason why your kids should listen to classical music, you probably would be disappointed to know that most of the much-hyped studies about the Mozart Effect, ie listening to Mozart can make your kids smarter, are still inconclusive. But what I can say with more certainty is that like learning an instrument, listening to classical music is good for kids because the intricacy of its form, harmonies and instrumentation stimulates the brain.

I’ve loved classical music since I was a teenager but to admit it is akin to waving your hands wildly in the air and shouting “Look at me, I’m uncool!” There seems to be this persistent stereotype of classical music lovers as nerdy geeks wearing glasses who spend their time at home playing the piano while their peers are outside having fun (oh wait, I think I just described myself as a kid). A fellow music lover who grew up playing the violin pointed out to me that we were playing Scrabble on Facebook while our hip-per peers were probably out mountain-biking or doing other macho activities like trekking up Mt Fuji.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, classical music doesn’t have the greatest rep. There appears to be some vague belief that it’s good for you somehow, but that it’s also an “atas” practice by snobs and nerds. There’s also a strange misconception that if you like classical music, it's to the exclusion of all other types of music. ALL NOT TRUE!

I want to state categorically that my Sheryl Crow and Coldplay albums actually get more playtime than my Dvorak or Tchaikovsky CDs. But I don’t think any child (or adult for that matter) needs to “learn” how to appreciate Avril Lavigne as compared to say, Bach.

The complexities of classical music mean that it is not as instantly palatable as pop music. When I was working as the marketing manager of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), I liked to use the analogy of wine and cola, ie classical music is wine and pop music is cola. You probably won’t like the taste of wine the very first time you try it. But after a while, its sophistication grows on you. There’s nothing not to like about cola – it’s sweet, fizzy, instantly appealing. But you are entitled to like both drinks, depending on the occasion or what you feel like at that moment. You can’t just chug wine down, it needs to be savoured. But there are just some times when you want more than just a quick saccharine fix.

If you’re new to classical music, there are some tried and tested pieces that are great for introducing to your kids. I have three all-time favourites. The first is Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev. The story is about Peter, a young boy who defies his grandfather and goes out to capture a wolf. Each of the characters is represented by an instrument, ie Peter (violin), bird (flute), duck (oboe), cat (clarinet), wolf (French horn), grandfather (bassoon), hunters (timpani). This means that when you hear the clarinet, you know the story is talking about the cat. You can get many of the music albums, but for young kids, I recommend the DVD Elmo’s Musical Adventure – Peter and the Wolf. With musicians from the Boston Pops Orchestra, this film really brings the music to life and your kids will get a kick out of watching Elmo and their other favourite Sesame Street characters. Both my kids love this DVD.

The second piece of music is Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. This is a series of short pieces composed to describe different animals - kids would love trying to identify some of them. My favourites are the Lion, the Elephant and the Aquarium. Many of you would also recognise the Swan, which is a very famous piece featuring the beautiful cello. Here’s a video clip of the masterful Yo-Yo Ma playing the piece.

My third recommendation is Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. This is great for any kid wanting to know more about the different instruments and sections that make up an orchestra.

Apart from listening to albums, it’s also great exposure to bring your kids to concerts. The SSO offers regular concerts for kids (although I personally feel they’re more suitable for kids below aged 10 and the tickets are rather pricey). If your kids listen to enough classical music to be able to sit through a regular concert, I prefer those. I’ve brought Lesley-Anne to see some of the great soloists like Hilary Hahn and it’s a terrific experience for her to see a good live performance. Even Andre has been to a regular concert and he managed to sit through it. (He was only about 5 then and an expat lady sitting next to him took him on her knee halfway through the concert and told him he was adorable). Don’t worry if your child starts to fidget half-way, you can always leave and come back next time. The whole point is exposure and your child’s response may just surprise you.

Mindset is everything. If you think or tell your child it's going to be boring, of course it will be! Give it a chance and give it time. Remember, it’s wine.


Lilian said...

My kids get zero exposure to music. I'm someone who can live without music! Aiyoh, no music in my soul, how? Like you said, classical music is all a bit 'atas' to us commonfolk ;)

And when I went to the National Russian Dance performance here, I enjoyed the first 60 min of the show, but midway through, me and the other Singaporean adults I was with were nodding off. Brian was enthralled throughout though.

monlim said...

if Brian enjoys it, just let him continuing listening (you don't have to listen with him lah!)

those 3 albums I mentioned are good & they often have kids' compilations with all 3 (or 2) of them in one CD. i thot Brian was learning piano?

Lilian said...

I'll look out for those albums then, if I remember. Brian gave up all lessons when we moved to Frankfurt, just too impractical, having to look for English-speaking music teachers, taking the piano along etc.

Alcovelet said...

I just love the selection you mention, particularly "The Story of the Orhestra". They're great stuff, these! My son loves that one, but he's so scared of a lot of classical music. I try not to do the "haiya" these days, but I sure would love to play "Peter and the Wolf", or even Beethoven's 5th. But these ones really freak him out. Hopefully, he'll outgrow these fears.

monlim said...

Don't worry, just take baby steps! The Elmo one is really good cos it's so unintimidating. Beethoven's 5th not so fun for kids, they only recognise the 1st 2 phrases.

When Lesley-Anne was a toddler, i used to play Dvorak's violin concerto (just as background music) and after a while, she would pretend to conduct the orchestra! I think it's cos it's a happy, melodic tune. Good luck with the ongoing education!

bACk in GERMANY said...

Wanna hear how Bryan got to hear Beethoven's No. 5 for the first time?

We were standing in front of the cathedral in Cologne and Bryan's daddy asked in a solemn face, "Do you know what Beethoven say when he first saw the Koelner Dom?"

My son replied that he was clueless.

So Daddy sang, "Der Dom, Dom, Dom, Dom. Dom Dom Dom Dom!"

Try this... I think any kid will find No. 5 very fun after that!

monlim said...

haha, hilarious!!

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