Introducing Kids to Classical Music

BlogHer Original Post

In typical Asian mom fashion, I’ve enrolled my children in both piano and violin lessons to pass on the stereotype that I had been brought up with. In my case, it has blossomed into a life-long love, where I have enjoyed both playing and listening to classical music to this day. I’ve seen cases where this has back-fired, where my friends had hated practicing, only to return to it later in life. My kids are temperamental and picky about music just like any other kid, but hopefully I’ve introduced classical music into their lives in a positive way.

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We live in the greater Boston area, which affords many opportunities to attend classical music events, especially performances geared towards children. Recently, I took my 8-year-old daughter and her friend to a Family Discovery Series concert by the New Philharmonia Orchestra in Newton, MA. The concert was narrated throughout and admittedly a bit geared toward pre-schoolers, but the magic began afterward. In a back room, the orchestra members assembled for an “instrument petting zoo.” If we hadn’t brought my daughter’s uninhibited friend, she probably would have hid behind her shyness and not tried out any instruments.

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With her friend, my daughter tried out all these: oboe, flute, violin, cello, bass, trumpet, french horn, trombone, triangle, bass drum and snare drum. A full journey through the orchestra! And in a proud mommy moment, she took a violin that was a different size than her own and played a perfect G major scale. The performers were extremely gracious in lending their instruments, taking care to sanitize mouthpieces between children. If not for this experience, my daughter had been lobbying to get out of school band in a couple years. Now she has picked out the trombone and is excited to learn it. Many of the children who attended this concert were younger than she was, but I felt that her age was actually more appropriate for trying instruments.

Even though my 11-year-old son actually enjoys listening to Vivaldi on his iPod, I have found it difficult to convince him to attend a classical music concert. For him, I opted to use the “treat as an adult” approach. The first classical music concert he attended was a chamber music performance set in beautiful Mechanics Hall in Worcester shown above. I explained to him that most people dress up to attend classical music concerts in a proper manner. There is no applause between movements of a piece and definitely no talking or video games. It sounded a bit snooty, but I was hoping the elite aspect would appeal to him. He agreed to dress up somewhat (ignore the jeans and sneakers) and agreed to go if he could bring a book.

Dapper Adam

Look how dapper he looks! As we sat down, I also appealed to his love of photography and allowed him to take photographs of the hall.

Mechanics Hall from the Balcony

Detail of Organ Woodwork

Who wouldn’t be inspired in such a beautiful place! It wasn't all just serious snootiness, I allowed the kids to pose with silly faces (ignore the disapproving onlooker).

Silly faces

Before the concert began, I instructed the kids to watch the technique of the string players, especially their vibrato and position shifting. If they weren't interested in the music, they could at least learn a few violin pointers. In the end, my son was mesmerized by the performance and never once cracked open his book. My daughter eventually fell asleep against my shoulder, while I soaked in one of my favorite pieces, Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It was a beautiful moment to share with her in her peaceful slumber.

This month, we took the kids to an taping of NPR’s From the Top at Jordan Hall in Boston. This radio program features young classical musicians from across the country performing highly virtuosic pieces of music. I’ve loved this show since since its inception for its high caliber of talent and fun interviews. My kids have listened to this show as a podcast for years when I have them trapped in the car with me. I often joke that they have so many years to get on the show themselves (OK, this is probably taking the tiger mom a bit far, they know that I am proud of them no matter what).

This show would be a great introduction to classical music for any school age child. Not only do they get to see what kids can accomplish when they practice hard, they can also see what goes on in a live radio production. Check their tour schedule to see if they are coming to a venue near you. It’s never too late or too early to have an appreciation for classical music!

Contributing editor Angela blogs about music and tiger moms at mommy bytes.

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