Sunday, November 13, 2005

Classical Music

I'm wondering today about how the classical arts are introduced to children. Please read on and see if your experiences are anything like mine...

When I was a kid in elementary school, we took field trips to hear classical music concerts and see the ballet. I'm not going to lie. I was totally bored by these experiences. It's interesting how these early experiences defined my impression of music because I haven't given classical concertizing (or ballet) much positive thought in the intervening thirty years. Sure, I bought some CDs, but I generally play classical music as the background to other things. Shameless, I know, but probably pretty common.

Fast forward to last night. My friends Barbara Seisel and Keith Torgan invited us to a recital that Barbara was giving in Poughkeepsie, about an hour north of our home in Yorktown, NY. Did I jump up in down saying, "Oh, boy! A chance to reinvestigate the classical world?" No, siree. In fact. I asked the person taking our tickets how long the show was going to be. I did NOT have high expectations.

Ironically, this indifferent state is the ideal way for me to be exposed to something wonderful. I've enjoyed many plays, records or museums when I entered with a feeling of numbness or ho-hummness. Last night was no different. And while I can't say that I left the theater a converted disciple of the classical idiom, I did connect to the experience.

As I've gotten older, I have been attracted to things like quiet time, reading, meditation, yoga and journal writing. I am more reflective, less prone to the quick fix of rock 'n roll and more attracted to the vision of falling leaves or a good historical novel. It should come as no surprise, then, that I'm coming into a life passage where classical music might be more relevent to me. Perhaps I'm ready to recognize and appreciate what I've been too busy to hear. And, I think, this type of music was introduced to me too early as a child. In fact, I was turned off by the stuffiness of the concert hall! Is this true for others like me? You bet.

I know from my conversations with Barbara that she worries about the state of classical music in our culture. She is searching for ways to connect to kids. In fact, Barbara and her wonderfully talented husband, Keith, have begun to do concerts that introduce children to the classical idiom. To hear me enthusiastic about my experience via email today was probably the greatest compliment I could have given her. I hope I can help Barbara in her quest!

I know that many PTAs still insist on taking children to the ballet, opera and the symphony. Perhaps, we should all take a look at what we're taking them to see. Is Beethoven or Bach as appropriate as something more modern, edgy or visually stimulating? I encourage PTA moms to think less of what kids need (like vegetables) and more about what they might enjoy. No, I'm not suggesting junk food music. But I do know this: when I was eight years old my parents and my guitar teacher kept me interested in music by adapting to my likes and dislikes. If they had force-fed me music that did not appeal to me I would not be a musician today.

1 comment:

Leah said...

A few thoughts based on personal experience and conversations with my girlfriend- a classically trained violinist.

For both of us, some of the best musical memories involve classical music. For me it was things like the first time I could distinguish between the sounds of a violin and a viola... or a first and second part and how they relate to each other. Of course for her it was things like first quartet concert, first quartet concert in front of hundreds... but I digress.

I feel that the classical portion of the training was really formative and helped me to develop basic skills to build on later. We definitely had music education in school that was more modern as well, but I wouldn't have wanted to trade the classical part for anything. Maybe it is the difference between what kids are taught and what kids are told. If I'd been told to like it, or that I had to do it all the time, I probably would have hated it. As Chris pointed out, kids like what they observe others around them liking- be it in family or peers... though the influence of peers grows over time. Its why she likes vegetables; its why I like gardening. That certainly wasn't cool back in the day. I guess I am arguing for some sort of blend. Arts education, like all education, should be relevant. If you subscribe to the liberal arts philosophy (as I do) then the classics are important... as is a sampling of everything else.