Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Introducing children to the world of sound is a challenging and complex task.  The aural world is as varied and rich as the world of sight, and yet, the same parents who consider the reading of Shakespeare and Dickens and the viewing of Michelangelo and Rembrandt integral parts of an educated mind, will suddenly hesitate when asked about the importance of listening to a Beethoven symphony.  Years of reading precede the reading of Shakespeare, years of drawing and painting precedes the first encounter with Rembrandt; similarly, years of listening to music must precede the appreciation of the great works of classical music.
Listening to Bach before he could walk!

It is never too early to start!

The parents of a newborn can begin building a child's musical vocabulary with the purchase of his or her first music box.  Brahms' "Lullaby," excerpts from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," and Flotow's "The Last Rose of Summer" are all available.  More extensive selections exist, both in European gift shops and on recordings of antique music boxes.  Every baby's room should have either a small sound system, a "boom box" or an iPod with speakers for listening to music.  Music is soothing for nap time, cheerful for waking up time, excellent for rolling around and exercising.

From the ages of one to three, your child should be actively singing.  No car should be without music; every child should have his or her own small player.  Begin collecting a music and audio book library.  Always listen to them together the first time; this sends an important message to your child, namely, that you are also interested in listening. Find a parent/child music group.  You will learn songs that you and your child can share and take with you everywhere.

Click Peter and the Wolf to listen!
By the age of three, your child may be ready to listen to several other kinds of music.  Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with a book of pictures is appropriate. 

The American Ballet Theater's video of The Nutcracker is excellent for both girls and boys.  (There are many other versions available, but you may enjoy a youtube video of an ABT rehearsal for their new production.) Most three- year-olds are still not developmentally ready to sit quietly in a concert hall.  The concert hall experience demands a three-stage process, namely, that the child be able to (1) store up all that he or she has heard, (2) recall it after the performance, and (3) then be able to discuss it out of its time frame.  Taking a three-year-old to a concert is possible, but if the child is forced to behave in a situation-appropriate, rather than age-appropriate, manner it will not be an enjoyable experience for either the parent or the child.  Be grateful that we live in the age of excellent recorded sound and video, that can prepare your child for the grand moment, and that many orchestras have Family Concerts.

All children should be prepared for their first concert hall experience.  If they are to attend Peter and the Wolf, they should have listened to it numerous times at home; if they are going to The Nutcracker, you should have watched the video several times with them, stopping, explaining the story, talking about the dances, etc.  If you are taking a child to a holiday sing-along concert, be certain the he or she knows the words to the first verse of at least half the songs listed on the program.  Good preparation eliminates the need for disturbing and inadequate explanations during performances and allows the performance to be an exhilarating, magical experience of something coming to life.

The three-to-five-year-old can begin applied music lessons on instruments that come in sizes (violins and cellos), or the piano where fixed pitches can be found.  Young children should wait until they are physically large enough to play other instruments.  The Suzuki method is highly recommended for all instruction at this age, but this method is only for the parent with time, commitment and patience.

The ages of six to twelve are wonderful years for you to attend live performances with your child.  The best young people's programming is entertaining and educational for both the parent and the child; even the musicians learn something at a fine concert for young people.  The age to start is not fixed and depends on the child's level of interest, previous exposure, school-imparted listening skills, etc.  If your child is not ready to sit quietly and listen for twenty to thirty-five minutes, wait until the next year to take him or her.

At this age, continue your listening at home and in the car with stories in music, such as
The Maestro Classics series (start with Peter and the Wolf), and the Classical Kids Series (Mr. Bach Comes to Call). Continue to have music in the car and listen to classic rock like The Beatles and Queen, classic folk like Woody Guthrie, and music of their choice as well.  On stressful days, a good rule is that adults and children each have veto power on what to play.

In the final analysis, one must ask:

Do I want my child to intellectually be aware of music's place in our cultural history?
Do I want my child to play an instrument and enjoy performing?
Do I want my child to attend concerts and discover the joys of music appreciation?

Ideally, the child and the parent can have some experience in all three.  We know that the best way to ensure that our children will be readers is to read ourselves.  Unless we, as parents, have a genuine interest in classical music, our children will probably fail to go beyond a very rudimentary introduction to this art form.  The good news, however, is that while some parents have musical backgrounds, most do not, and if this is the case, you and your child can begin to enjoy and learn about classical music together.

At Maestro Classics we hope that after listening to our CDs you will (1) have learned enough to like classical music, perhaps for the first time, (2) have discovered that great music can make you feel happy as well as sad, and change your day, and (3) have started you on your path of musical discovery.


Do I like classical music?

Do I think that my child should like classical music because it (a) is socially correct, (b) will give him or her a lifetime of enjoyment, (c) will be a civilizing force on his or her personality, (d) is something that I have never learned to like but feel that I should?

Would I, as a parent, like to learn more about classical music?

Do I think that learning about a Beethoven symphony is as important as learning how to play baseball well or understanding a play by Shakespeare?

Is this something that I would like to share with my child?

Is there time in my life to practice an instrument with my child every day?

Questions to ask the professional:

What concerts are right for my child at this age?  (The age requirement for concerts relates, not to how musically gifted or interested the child is, but rather to his or her emotional and abstract conceptual development.  OBEY THE GUIDELINES FOR YOUR SAKE, FOR THE SAKE OF THE PROFESSIONALS RUNNING SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS, AND FOR YOUR CHILD'S SAKE.)

What music will my child enjoy after Raffi and Mr. Beethoven Lives Upstairs?

Is my child enjoying his or her music lessons?  (Whether he or she is doing as well as others his or her age is irrelevant.)

Should my child study an instrument at school and play in the band or orchestra?

Written by Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MusEd, MA, MPhil, is the former Executive Director of the Washington Chamber Symphony and co-founder of the symphony's highly successful Concerts for Young People and Family Concert Series performed at the Kennedy Center. She is currently the executive producer of Maestro Classics.

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