Thursday, February 2, 2012

Music Appreciation

I strongly believe that a well-educated person should, upon hearing, be able to identify the top 100 or so classical masterpieces.  That sounds like a lot, but once you start naming pieces they add up quickly.  Obviously that number may need to be adjusted up or down to mesh with your own expectations on this subject matter.  However, it stands to reason that most of us would like our children to recognize  Beethoven's 5th  when they hear it and know who wrote it. As you read through this post, I will mention a few others, and I bet some of you will be saying "yes, I want them to know that one too!"     I have used Classic Tunes & Tales for years and feel it provides an excellent jumping off point for that kind of music appreciation work.  This book is designed to be used with the child across many years (K-8).  If you took them through the whole book, they would be familiar with 50 classical masterpieces before they started high school.

There are many things I like about this book.  The two most important are the provided lyrics and stories.   

While there seems to be no limit in sight to the number of sung pieces a child can remember, bear in mind that most of these classical masterpieces are instrumental.  This lack of words seemingly eliminates singing as an important physical connection to the piece and memory device. Hands down, my favorite thing about this book is that it writes out a recognizable chunk of each piece as a melody and provides lyrics to go with it.  The lyrics are cleverly written to include the name of the piece, the composer, as well as a fact or two about either the piece, composer, or both.  Here is a glimpse of the page for Beethoven's 5th Symphony (left click will make it larger):

These little tunes and lyrics are VERY effective.  I remember teaching second graders Swan Lake and later showing them a children's abbreviated version of the ballet.  EVERY TIME the famous theme popped up the whole class would gently sing along.  I would be very surprised if they didn't know that tune for life.  I noticed the same phenomenon with the "William Tell Overture" when I would show my first graders the video "The Band Concert."  (One of my favorite videos of all time.)  Be sure to teach both "William Tell" and "Turkey in the Straw" so that they understand what Donald Duck is doing and why Mickey gets so mad!


This book should be a jumping off point, not the end-all-be-all of what you choose to do. There are a few times in which the real lyrics to a piece are better than the false ones provided.  I always teach the real words to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus for all four parts.  One of my favorite mental pictures in life is that of a group of eight-year-old boys posturing to look and sound like "big basses" to sing the low parts along with the recording.  I just feel like everyone should be able to join in whenever the Hallelujah Chorus is sung.   Other examples of "real lyric" opportunities are Beethoven's Ode to Joy and the hymn "Goin' Home" (or the Catholic version, "Jesus Christ, Bread of Life") from Dvorak's New World Symphony.

The book provides a complete lesson plan for each piece.  It has also imbedded one or more music fundamentals topic into each lesson (for example, the children learn about the "brass family" when they study Clarke's "trumpet voluntary"...the repeat sign when they learn Pachelbel's "Canon in D.").  But, what I love about these lesson plans is that each lesson begins with a story. In a very "Montessori Elementary" kind of way, the provided stories help place the piece in the "big picture" and/or spark the child's interest in learning about the piece.  There are a lot of great books about music for kids, and sometimes I am familiar with a better story than the one provided in the book.  Like I said, this is a jumping off point.  I use a better story when I can, and branch out like one would in any other unit study.  Regarding the pieces alone, you can find recordings to hear, videos to watch, parodies.  You can perform them on instruments (in fact, an appendix at the back has written many tunes out for recorder).  You can branch out and read about or watch videos about the composer.  After all that, if you choose you can greatly expand on the music fundamental topics included.

An aside regarding the "stories" for each piece:  Many times, like Stravinsky's "Firebird" for example, the piece is based on a fairy tale and I would rather read the fairy tale itself.  I want to warn you before you check one out and start reading without previewing that different parents have different levels of tolerance regarding the "dark" moments in fairy tales.  I personally can't stand the fact that the little mermaid doesn't die in the Disney film.  She's supposed to throw herself into the sea and become the foam on the water darn it!  Not get married and live happily ever after ruining the whole moral of the story! Anyway, I am not usually bothered by what some would label "violence" in some fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  If you are, just choose your version carefully and edit judiciously.  There are no "dark" stories provided in Classic Tunes and Tales.  I just happen to think it's a little deceptive to teach Scheherazade as a "happy story."  At the same time, I was unpleasantly surprised when I previewed a young-children's version of "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves" a few weeks ago and it described rather harshly many miserable deaths including the stabbing of all the thieves one at a time as they hid in barrels.  Rather than change the story,  I would rather wait until it is age appropriate for them to read some of the more famous stories from the Arabian Nights and find a more sensitive (but not sugar-coated) version.

Each lesson plan states the objective, lists the materials, provides a stepped procedure, as well as activity pages and answer keys.  The supplementary materials at the back include a lot of goodies such as a historical timeline, tunes written out for the recorder, and game ideas.  There are also wordsearches, coloring pages, and bulletin board plans if those types of things are your cup of tea.  (I'm a sucker for a good timeline myself.)  Most of the activity pages are "cut apart and sort" types of things that can be used in a very Montessori way.  Very few of them are limited to use in a standard worksheet sort of way (I'm not a fan of those). One activity page can even be turned into a composer "geographical pin map"!  There are five "tests" provided in the book as well.  I'm not pro-test, but they all can, with very little imagination required, be turned into a fun activity or work instead.

I really wish there was a scope-and-sequence page I could scan for you all so you could see all the pieces, topics, ideas, and music terms covered in this book.  Sadly, there these are provided by section and I would have to copy too many pages.  If you are unsure, I would highly recommend having your local bookstore order it in so you can take a look at it.

In my mind this is an "elementary" thing; and, also in my mind, we don't start elementary here until "next fall."  For this reason, I haven't done these activities with my own boys yet.  Writing this post has me really looking forward to doing so, and when we do, I promise to share my unit ideas!

Home of: The Ultimate Montessori Blog List The Ultimate Montessori Search Box The Ultimate Montessori Homemade Materials Collaboration

1 comment:

  1. Do you just pick a version you like on the internet for each song? I read that it doesn't come with a c.d. Being completely uneducated when it comes to music, this seems like a negative. Recommendations?