Start Them Young

NickImageA couple of events have coincided during the last day or so to bring a question to my attention. That question is essentially, What music should I provide for my small children to listen to? I would like to answer that question by providing general suggestions concerning music to Christian parents for their children. For the most part, these recommendations will reflect the approach that I took with my children when they were small. As a parent, I wanted my children’s music to meet several criteria.

First, it had to be good music, worth listening to in its own right. Like good children’s literature, good children’s music should be as worthwhile for an eighty-three-year-old listener as it is for a three-year-old listener. In other words, it should be seriously musical, even when it is not being serious. Children’s music can certainly be humorous—even uproarious—but it should not be merely silly, trendy, or vapid.

Second, it had to be music that children would enjoy listening to. By this I do not mean that a child should get to listen to everything that she or he wishes to hear. What I do mean is that the music should be interesting enough to attract and hold a child’s interest, especially with adult involvement. Children’s music should be capable of seizing the imagination—and not only the imagination of a child.

Third, I wanted music that would allow me to engage my children in conversation. I wanted it to be music that we could discuss while and after listening to it. Good music provides the opportunity for teaching both about the music itself and about the extramusical world.

Fourth, it had to be music that was readily available and widely heard. Just as one purpose of play is to prepare children for adult responsibilities, one function of children’s music is to prepare children for participation in real culture. I wanted my children to hear and understand music that they would be hearing for the rest of their lives rather than music that they would abandon after adolescence or that they would find embarrassing outside of their cultural ghetto.

In addition to the foregoing, I relied upon the distinction between music that is heard and music that is overheard. I would play one kind of music when I specifically wanted my children to listen. I might play different music for them to overhear in the background while they were doing other things.

These principles apply equally well both to music for general listening and to music for Christian instruction. At the moment, however, I am not particularly interested in discussing Christian music per se. My suggestions are really aimed at music for general listening, the kind of music that will help children to become active listeners to music of all kinds.

Three compositions stand at the center of the children’s listening repertoire. These are Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Camille Saint Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. All three of these pieces fulfill the above requirements admirably.

Probably the first composition that captured my son’s imagination was Tchaikovsky’s Overture Solonnelle “1812.” The music uses readily distinguishable themes and moods as it tells its story. Even a two or three year old can tell when the music is happy, when it is sad, and when it is angry. For our children, identifying these moods became a game. My son used to pester his mother and me with requests for the “happy and sad and mad music.”

Nearly any piece of program music can be used in a similar way (though not all programs are equally suitable for children). The opening movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or Smetana’s The Moldau all tell stories that are enjoyable for a child to learn and follow. Borodin’s On the Steppes of Central Asia is a hauntingly beautiful tone poem that also initiates children into an acquaintance with counterpoint.

In their active moments, children love a sound that is bold and brassy. They may not be drawn to Sousa’s marches, but they will almost certainly like some of the noisier stuff put out by the Empire Brass or the Canadian Brass—particularly when it is accompanied by pipe organ. This is music that they will enjoy both hearing and overhearing.

Small children tend not to focus attention upon a single thing for a long time. Longer compositions will often be lost on them (unless, like the 1812 Overture, the music varies considerably within the composition). Collections of shorter pieces are more likely to appeal to them. Brahm’s Hungarian Dances, for example, offers a selection of twenty-one lively tunes that are good accompaniment for playtime. Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Handel’s Water Music and Fireworks Music, and selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker are also collections that appeal to many children.

When playtime is over and quiet time comes, gentler music is in order. Gentle does not have to mean dull, however. What the music lacks in drive it should make up for in beauty. Some of Christopher Parkening’s guitar recordings fulfill this requirement wonderfully, as does the sound track from Ken Burns’s Lewis and Clark.

Speaking of sound tracks, parents should not overlook film music as a source of children’s listening. Not that children should be subjected to entire film scores—that would be too dull even for most adults. Nevertheless, some of the anthologies from Erich Kunzel or John Williams provide interesting music that is quite accessible to children.

While some parental selectivity is necessary, children are often delighted by Peter Schickele writing as P. D. Q. Bach. While this music is often silly, it is never merely silly. Even at his most farcical and satirical, Schickele usually has a musical point to make. As a child grows in sophistication, these lighthearted parodies can be highly instructive, particularly when the child is in a position to compare them with the original music that Schickele is spoofing.

Naturally, I have not provided anything like a comprehensive discography here. How could I? The world is full of good music. All one has to do is to take a few moments to find it. Even so, these suggestions should offer a starting place from which interested parents can explore on their own.

Of course, with the easy availability of computer rips and downloadable tunes, parents can tailor their children’s listening as never before. Parents are in a position to provide their children with richer listening more easily than at any time in history. As a father with two grown children who love music, I suggest that the investment is worthwhile.

from A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687
John Dryden (1631–1700)

      When Jubal struck the corded shell,
   His list’ning brethren stood around,
      And, wond’ring, on their faces fell
   To worship that celestial sound,
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
      Within the hollow of that shell
      That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell? 

As from the power of sacred lays
   The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
   To all the blest above:
So, when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Developing my kids' musical aesthetic was, unfortunately, not something I thought much about when they were littler. Had I the chance to do it over, might have tried a few of these ideas.
As it is, though, the two of them have very different tastes despite being raised the same way... which suggests to me that shaping the aesthetic sensibilities is not as simple as exposing them to the best stuff and insulating them against other stuff. The latter is nearly impossible in our culture now... and there seems to be some mysterious factors in the whole process.

But there's no question that what they grow up with is strongly influential in developing tastes (aka affections/aesthetic sensibilities).

I haven't found that serious high culture music holds their interest, but have found that songs that tell stories are much appreciated. For that dynamic to work, you have to have vocal performance that is focused on telling the story (vs. getting your adrenaline and hormones pumping through heavy background music)--and it helps a great deal as well to use accompaniment that helps tell the story too.

Having long loved English, Celtic and some American folk music, it's been fairly easy to mine that for great story songs. And my kids love them as much as I do. So... though they have not yet acquired an appreciation for Mozart or Mahler (for me, that genre started with Beethoven and not until high school), I'm gratified that at least they have a strong appreciation non-pop-culture music.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for the link.

I think the general idea that we should not allow our children's tastes to just form however they will--more or less randomly--is a really strong one.
(I'm gratified though that I was raised mostly on 2nd Great Awakening "hymns" and Lawrence Welk and some southern gospel, my folks picked up some classical recordings while grocery shopping one day... and we had a good high quality stereo system. I still think, on a gut level, that Beethoven's 6th on a good system with the volume up in a quiet room would have to hook almost anybody... but in reality that has not been my experience.... and today I favor an old folk song with a small acoustic band--or a film score)

Edit: want to add that I don't think there's anything wrong with "merely silly ...or vapid." This is part of being a kid. If they can play silly games with toys, why not enjoy a bit of silly play with music? But avoiding pop like the plague seems prudent. We're at a cultural low and this stuff appeals instantly to the "low" in us, including kids... they will be influenced more than enough by the popular stuff just by being in public places.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

How our kids develop their own musical tastes is a mystery to me. I love classical, especially Spanish guitar, the hubby loves Gershwin, but my dd prefers Celtic, one of my boys enjoys opera, and the youngest likes folk music (think The Fox).

I agree that we should expose them to good quality music, and severely limit fluff and twaddle. They develop their taste in music much like we develop our tastes for certain foods. You have to try it to like it, and usually you have to try it more than once. For some reason, you don't have to teach them to love junk food, but most of the time they do have to be 'coerced' into loving salads and veggies.

Rob Fall's picture

there are other great marches. My tastes run to Pipes and bands of the Scottish regiments. Then there is walking along on a family outing singing "Scotland the Brave", "Men of Harlech" and "The Rising of the Moon."

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Rob, know where to find good recordings of those? All three of them sound like just my thing. And I do enjoy a good battle ballad.

Rob Fall's picture

For the words, I'd wikipedia the song titles. For the music, I'd look at amazon for The Black Watch Pipe Band. Also, Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" has words written by the maestro himself (available via a Wikipedia search on Stars and Stripes Forever). For Scotland the Brave, I usually hear John McDermott's version of the lyrics (see wiki).

All else fails, they are great tunes for kazoo band.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Rob, know where to find good recordings of those? All three of them sound like just my thing. And I do enjoy a good battle ballad.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

RickyHorton's picture

If I hadn't already struggled through this myself, after reading this article I would be left with more questions than answers about what to have my children listen to. Am I a bad parent Christian parent because I don't like this music and don't force my kids to like it either?!! I'm asking this half-jokingly. However, a lot of Christian children struggle with the question of why they have to be forced to like or acquire a taste for the "good" music while the rest is just considered fluff or downright wrong! I know I struggled with it for years.

Ricky

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I don't think it's about forcing them to like anything, but by exposing them to good music on a regular basis, they will naturally develop a taste for it.

R Glenny's picture

I think of Judge Bullingham's comments to Rumpole of the Bailey. "Just use your common sense." I appreciate the careful thought concerning music for children, and I value the suggestions, but...
Does that mean we leave out Copland's "Rodeo" and "Appalachian Spring"?
Shouldn't kids enjoy Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite"? You've got to love the donkeys and the thunder.
And don't you want to feel the waves on Rachmaninoff's "Isle of the Dead?"

And what if God's creation of the world included more than Europe? What a joy to listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing Amazing Grace. Kids should hear that. And for that matter, they should hear Jubilant Sykes singing spirituals. I wanted my kids to know "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

I've probably listened to more Bach than any other composer, but surely David wasn't dancing to Bach. And the disciples weren't listening to NPR in the boat. You like brass? There can be no more upbeat joy than listening to England's Black Dyke Mill Band play "A Lincolnshire Poacher". I played that for my kids a few weeks ago. They are all in their 30's but I didn't want them to miss it.

There are so many great artists in Brazil. And if I go to a Chinese restaurant, I don't want to hear Mozart's Mass in C Minor. (But, his Gloria in Excelsis Deo is unbeatable.) Stimulate conversation. Develop appreciation. Enjoy.

And last night I was thinking of the songs we sang together and one in particular came to mind.
"A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, twiddle dum dee dee.
Don't ever sit on a woodpecker's knee.
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, twiddle dum dee dee.
Come on and sing along with me."

Silly? Fun? Memories of joy? Yes. And in our joy God was glorified.
What a privilege to share the riches of good music with kids.

Richard Glenny

RickyHorton's picture

Good music seems to be a relative term though that isn't exclusive to classical music (R Glenny illustrated this very well). Honestly, there is some of it that I can listen to and enjoy, but there is a lot more out there that I would like my children exposed to as well.

Ricky

Rob Fall's picture

Can a particular genre of music sond good when played on an accordion?

RickyHorton wrote:
Good music seems to be a relative term though that isn't exclusive to classical music (R Glenny illustrated this very well). Honestly, there is some of it that I can listen to and enjoy, but there is a lot more out there that I would like my children exposed to as well.

Ricky

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

SarahN's picture

Susan R wrote:
I don't think it's about forcing them to like anything, but by exposing them to good music on a regular basis, they will naturally develop a taste for it.

I think you're right, Susan. You'd be surprised what kids will like-I had one group of my fourth grade students obsessed with a particular 16th century madrigal, and a group of fifth graders that loved organ music, particularly Bach fugues!

Rob Fall's picture

Rob Fall wrote:
Can a particular genre of music sond good when played on an accordion?

Can a particular genre of music sound good when played on an accordion?

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's really not a European focus so much as a Western and historic focus. See if this rings true:

a. Not all cultures are equally good
b. Not all cultures are equally influenced by Christian beliefs
c. Western culture (of that period) was influenced by Christian beliefs far more than "eastern" culture of that period
d. 17-18th century western culture was influenced by Christian beliefs to a greater degree than thereafter

So... "old" and Western is a good place to start and a good "center" for developing an aesthetic. The better serious music of modern times is still strongly influenced by trends in the West a few centuries ago.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
It's really not a European focus so much as a Western and historic focus. See if this rings true:

a. Not all cultures are equally good
b. Not all cultures are equally influenced by Christian beliefs
c. Western culture (of that period) was influenced by Christian beliefs far more than "eastern" culture of that period
d. 17-18th century western culture was influenced by Christian beliefs to a greater degree than thereafter

So... "old" and Western is a good place to start and a good "center" for developing an aesthetic. The better serious music of modern times is still strongly influenced by trends in the West a few centuries ago.


Is there such a thing as a "Christian" musical aesthetic? If yes, how do we recognize it in the music?

I'm a big fan of "Western" classical music of most periods, though once we get to the Modernist period, the number of selections I enjoy decreases rapidly. I also love a lot of the sacred music that has come from this tradition. I find the classical types of music much more "satisfying" in some way to listen to than most other types of music. However, can we really say that the other cultures that have had a smaller impact from Christian beliefs have a musical aesthetic that is antithetical (or at least not as friendly) to the Christian view? Again, if so, how do we recognize that in the music?

Dave Barnhart

ChrisC's picture

dcbii wrote:
Is there such a thing as a "Christian" musical aesthetic?
if there was even such a thing as a "Godly" musical aesthetic, one would expect to find something about it in the Bible. Apparently it wasn't that important to bother revealing anything concrete. Or even preserving some document about how the Psalms were sung.

JNoël's picture

Rob Fall wrote:
Rob Fall wrote:
Can a particular genre of music sond good when played on an accordion?

Can a particular genre of music sound good when played on an accordion?

I played in state and national level accordion competitions when I was in young. Played Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Lecuona's Malagueña, a unique set of Variation's on a Rachmaninoff theme written by Paganini, several Strauss waltzes, Liszt's La campanella, some great duet and trio arrangements of some classic early American love songs (think Bicycle Built for Two, etc.), a couple Bach Inventions, and lots more. A quality accordion played well is actually an enjoyable listen - but obviously not all will agree. No different than other love/hate instruments like pipe organ, bagpipes, electric guitar or harmonica.

Smile

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

R Glenny's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
It's really not a European focus so much as a Western and historic focus. See if this rings true:

a. Not all cultures are equally good
b. Not all cultures are equally influenced by Christian beliefs
c. Western culture (of that period) was influenced by Christian beliefs far more than "eastern" culture of that period
d. 17-18th century western culture was influenced by Christian beliefs to a greater degree than thereafter

So... "old" and Western is a good place to start and a good "center" for developing an aesthetic. The better serious music of modern times is still strongly influenced by trends in the West a few centuries ago.

Aaron,

I'll give you a,b,c,and d. West is best. Rule Britannia. On with the reformation. (not necessarily in that order)

Here's what I wonder, "Is the old center for developing an aesthetic only applicable to music?" Were the pure creative juices only flowing in the veins of the musicians, or did it affect literature as well? Or architecture? (think flying buttresses!) Art? Science and medicine? Mathematics? Let me say, for sake of argument, that our Christian heritage gave us an advantage in all the arts and sciences.

Now I realize my examples pre-date the "17-18th century western culture", but one way that we got ahead was (to quote the most popular 20th century western musical composers), "we got by with a little help from our friends." Thanks to the the Arabs we were able to ditch the Roman numerals. (imagine Strauss writing a waltz in III/IV time) Thanks to the Chinese we got gunpowder so we could shoot one another. My point is, and I think we all agree, that there is common grace, and all mankind is created in the image of God. And that image gives us creativity. To fail to critically evaluate other cultures and then learn from other cultures is a handicap. A handicap in medicine, in art, science, and music.

Had we been in 1st century Antioch, we might have been alarmed to hear the singing of the church. I wonder what the Psalms sounded like when Daniel sang them in Persia. I don't know the tunes they employed in Ephesus, I just know that they came from saints filled with the Spirit of God. I might not have thought it was appropriate, but God was pleased. I'm not a musicologist, but I know it didn't sound like "17-18th century western culture." Does all the world have to adopt a musical system based on an octave in order to praise God? Is our system better, or am I just more comfortable with it? (I take that back, I already said it was better.)

In heaven, (OK, this is strictly my opinion), I don't think that there will be any requests for Bach, or Getty or Hamilton. I'm sure Bach, Getty and Hamilton agree. Nobody will want any of that any more. "The former things will pass away." (not my opinion) All cultures will participate. We will then be able to write the final chapter on "good music."

It seems God is glorified not just in our admiration of the Big Dipper, but also in going south of the equator and being amazed at the Southern Cross. Our lives, and the lives of our children, are richly blessed in experiencing the diversity of creation and creativity. With discernment, of course. Connected to that thought, the command of God is to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations - not to our culture, but disciples of the Creator and Savior.

Richard Glenny

christian cerna's picture

Have them sample some Beethoven. His music does something to the intellect that is difficult to understand. It's marvelous! He is like the Robert Louis Stevenson of the music world.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm not an expert in aesthetics, but I'll at least throw out some opinions that I think are at least well influenced if not well developed or well supported.

Quote:
Is there such a thing as a "Christian" musical aesthetic? If yes, how do we recognize it in the music?

I'm convinced there absolutely must be a Christian aesthetic. Whether it's easy or even possible to identify with certainty is another question.
But as the song says "Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen."
And we've seen (or heard etc.) nothing like we're going to eventually. (1Cor.13.12)

But I believe an individual's aesthetic sensibilities flow from his affections. You desire what you think is beautiful and you think beautiful whatever you desire. (Mostly... there are corrupt desires, and we are capable of feeling desire for what we know is not beautiful). Where do those desires come from? I think it's probably not a hard sell to claim that they have many influences, some genetic, some instilled by upbringing, some flowing directly from our spirit, some cultural by association with ideas or groups of people, etc.

If one's aesthetic comes from his heart, then there must be a regenerate aesthetic.
But because people are complex and some unbelievers have been influenced by Christianity a great deal and some believers have not, it's necessary to talk about a lot of things in terms of Christian influence rather than purely Christian vs. non-Christian. It's still not a cakewalk (no pun intended.... look up cakewalk), but it's easier to identify Christian-influenced musical aesthetic than simply a "Christian aesthetic."

Quote:
Here's what I wonder, "Is the old center for developing an aesthetic only applicable to music?" Were the pure creative juices only flowing in the veins of the musicians, or did it affect literature as well? Or architecture? (think flying buttresses!) Art? Science and medicine? Mathematics? Let me say, for sake of argument, that our Christian heritage gave us an advantage in all the arts and sciences.

Interesting question. I'd answer the spirit of it with a firm yes. But the question mixes categories. Literature and architecture are arts but science and math aren't (and medicine mostly isn't). Science and math have to do with things discovered whereas architecture, music, painting, sculpture, etc. have to do with things created (though discovery is part of the process). I'm going to guess that things created are inherently affectional to some extent whereas things discovered need not be affectional at all.

But I'm talking about "Christian influence aesthetic" in the sense of "Christian influenced sense of the beautiful and good," not "the science of aesthetics" (if there is such a thing... color me skeptical... that would be like science of the soul).

christian cerna's picture

I agree with Aaron. God is a God of excellence and order and beauty and wonder. He created music and poetry and skillful art. Any music that is governed by order, excellence, skill, and beauty, and that stirs up the mind and soul to do great things, is God honoring music.

Mike Harding's picture

My daughter, Rachel, is the assistant concert master of the Colorado Symphony. Her twin sister, Rebecca, is a collaborative pianist and part-time piano professor at Hillsdale College. Our third daughter is a cellist in the New World Symphony. We put many of the practices in place suggested by Dr. Bauder. Though we were not as consistent as he, I found those early practices created an appetite for beautiful and excellent music in our children which not only helped to shape their personalities, but also enhanced their intellects. This is good advice!

Pastor Mike Harding

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