Classical music was born in the halls of churches and monasteries. At its heart is divine inspiration. It is a gift given to humanity for devotion, pleasure and discipline. It’s one of those treasured aspects of our culture that keeps us connected to our creator.
The composers of old knew this. Many of them, after having finished a work, dedicated it in writing “to the glory of God” or “to God alone be the glory”. They understood that such beauty could not be achieved by human beings alone.
In fact, if you think about it, there’s nothing on earth quite like classical music. It’s in a league of its own.
For these and other reasons, many parents want to expose their children to it, in order to foster a true appreciation of it.
But many don’t know where to start, especially in cases where their child may not be learning an instrument and may not be well versed themselves.
There are a few simple things anyone can do to help children enjoy classical music.
Early exposure is best
Play classical music in your home, just in the background, to create a pleasant atmosphere. Consider telling your children something simple about the music, such as the name of the composer, the name of the orchestra, or the country the music is from. Or just ask them how they feel, or offer your own comments about it, such as, “Doesn’t that sound like birds chirping?” or similar. Don’t make it a high pressure situation for your child, of course. Otherwise, their associations with gender may not be entirely positive. You are only planting seeds.
There is no need to spend money to play music. You might have a local classic station you like to tune into, but if you don’t, there are plenty of free resources for online streaming. Here are some recommendations. Philadelphia WRTI Radio Website is a wonderful station, outside the hometown of one of America’s finest orchestras. And YourClassical.org is a website with not only great online streaming, but also a great section for kids.
Attend kid-friendly concerts
Okay, maybe your kids aren’t ready for a full symphony concert, and maybe you’re worried you’ve missed the “first show” window.
No problem, there are many opportunities to solve this problem. You’ll be surprised (depending, of course, on where you live) how many gigs are available that are short, memorable, and engaging. And while the videos are great, the in-person experiences will leave a much deeper impression, of course.
Summer is a great time to find shorter gigs in your area, many of which may be free. Many cities and towns hold concerts in the park which you can find out about simply by searching for information online. These can be simple, for example, brass ensembles playing more crowd-pleasing tunes, or a full orchestra giving a family-friendly outdoor performance.
Do a search and you’ll likely find some great options. There may even be something before your local 4th of July fireworks display.
Although I grew up being taken to many, many concerts, sometimes involving the family as performers, and even in large venues, one of my favorite memories is of a relaxed time in a park.
It was next to a river with a small marching band playing in a gazebo. The intimate nature of the setting and the liveliness of the music – I believe performed by older people – brought so much joy that I think it’s something I will carry with me forever.
Note that these concerts are not always classical in nature. But exposure to people playing classical instruments—those you find in a symphony orchestra—is integral to gradually leaving that impression in your child’s mind.
Folk gigs involving guitars or cafe-style gigs, while enjoyable, won’t lay quite the same foundation, in my experience.
Another source for these, beyond summer concerts or local parks, are cultural festivals such as Oktoberfest (OK, yes, you should watch out for excessive alcohol consumption!), polka festivals, Ukrainian festivals, etc. Often you will find people playing classical instruments accompanying the folk dance performed in traditional costume. It can be a great experience for kids on many levels.
Your local symphony orchestra probably has concerts aimed at children to offer, so those are also worth looking into. And there’s the increasingly popular genre of concerts involving live orchestras accompanying the film. Online, there’s a very helpful description of what it was like to experience the Houston Symphony Orchestra when it performed live on “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” in 2018.
Their website says it well: “If you’ve ever watched part of a movie in silent mode, you know that without music, the scary scenes aren’t as scary and the happy endings aren’t as happy.”
In this type of performance, the film appears on a large screen behind a full orchestra, which is usually on a stage rather than in an orchestra pit, and the orchestra plays the full score of the film during the screening of the film. Imagine how precise the timing of the music has to be for this to work!
This kind of experience could help your child never experience a movie the same way again, opening their ears with a new appreciation.
Choose child-friendly songs
There are several classic plays that were written specifically to educate children about the genre. Still considered the gold standard for this purpose, Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, which, although written in 1946, is based on a tune from 1695. You can easily find recordings of that online, and you might just find it being performed by an orchestra near you.
keep it light
Whatever experience you choose for your child along these lines, make sure it’s kept light and fun, especially when they’re younger. Reserve the attitude of the mother tiger to get your child to practice a classical instrument, which is quite another matter.
But if practice isn’t the current focus, then just remember that classical music is a divine gift, and allowing your child to experience it and have it sink into their heart and being is a beautiful thing – something that can stay with him forever.