Teaching Kids the Classics from Home
A Resource for Parents and Grandparents: Introducing Children to Classical Music
Being stuck at home for an extended period of time has been difficult on everyone, but parents and caregivers of small children have had a particularly tough time during quarantine. Balancing work, stress, and major disruptions to daily routines on top of taking care of kids has not been an easy adjustment!
With schools, daycare centres, and summer camps shut down all over the world, many of us have put on the hat of primary educator, brushing up on everything from fractions to parts of speech, and above all, trying to find fun ways to keep at-home lessons from growing stale. While all of that can be tremendously overwhelming, it’s also an opportunity to get creative and introduce the kids in your life to areas that are important to you that might not normally be covered in the year’s curriculum.
You can probably guess what that important area is for us! We’ve assembled some simple ways to cultivate an appreciation for classical music from the comfort of home.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a classical music expert, you can easily explore five hundred years of music with the children in your life (and if they’re anything like the kids in my life, they’ll be teaching YOU how do that exploring!). Streaming services like Spotify or Youtube have thousands of curated playlists to comb through and find your new favourites. You’ll be surprised by how much music you all recognize from popular culture, but didn’t know anything about. When you’re listening to playlists together, if you come across a piece of classical music that sounds familiar, make a note of the composer. That way, you can continue exploring their music and uncover some of their lesser-known gems.
For many of us, some of our earliest encounters with classical music came to us courtesy of our friends from Sesame Street. The benchmark-setting children’s television show has been on the air for half a century, and over those fifty years, characters like Big Bird, Elmo, and Oscar the Grouch have welcomed countless stars of the classical music world to their neighbourhood.
Explore classic clips from Sesame Street for some fantastic (and funny) performances. Search “Sesame Street Classical Music” and you’ll find everyone from Yo Yo Ma to Gustavo Dudamel, to Renée Fleming. A generation of kids heard Carmen sing the "Habañera" for the first time from this fun-loving orange, and were introduced to another Carmen aria by Samuel Ramey.
Here’s one of our favourites, when pianist Lang Lang auditions for the Grouch Symphony Orchestra with a little Rachmaninoff and Liszt:
Oftentimes, when children are stuck at home with nothing to do, they’ll retreat into their imaginations. That’s where classical music can come in handy. The stirring sounds of an orchestra can be the inspiration for imaginative flights of fancy. If you’re looking for an activity, pick a piece of classical music, and ask your child to imagine a story behind the song. The music might inspire a great work of creative writing, or a story they can tell their relatives on Zoom or FaceTime! Try Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka or the Overture to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Despite the fact that performance venues across the globe have been shuttered, the arts have never been more accessible. It wasn’t long after the shutdown of theatres and symphony halls that artists and arts organizations took to the Internet to share their work with audiences online. Renowned opera companies have dug into their video archives and shared live broadcasts of past productions. World-class orchestras have hosted live gala concerts featuring members playing their instruments from home. And on social media, symphonies have been continuing to host regular concerts for their devoted fans, and those just beginning to explore their love of classical music. Some of our favourite performances have been brought to us by the Glyndebourne Opera, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna State Opera.
The extra time we’re all spending at home can be an additional source of stress in a difficult time. But it can also be a chance to impart a love of the arts to the little ones in our lives. Even a little bit of classical music can brighten the dullest of days, relieve tension, and help us connect with our kids.