“Mrs. Greenway,” a first grader asked me yesterday, “do we ever listen to any Early Age composers?”
In our school, each music class concludes by listening to a piece of art music (generally known as “classical” music). We learn about one composer and one composition written by that composer every week. Each composer falls into one or two of the following categories: Early Age, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or Modern Day.
We love what we know
The students, particularly the younger ones, love listening to these pieces. They were veritably rocking out listening to the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Autumn.” Apparently, they haven’t yet figured out that art music is supposed to be boring. And if it were up to me, they would never find it boring.
I’ve written about this regarding hymns, and it’s true for art music too: kids love what they know. When we are constantly listening to Vivaldi and Bach and Mozart and Stravinsky and Haydn, they learn to love that music. Art music is beautiful and complex and fun. When it’s taught in a winsome way, children look forward to listening to it and even begin to recognize their favorites. At my school, the favorite tends to be Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Fill your life with the beauty of creation!
Children need to learn about the beauty of art music, a generous gift of God. For God is abundant and gives us far more than we need. Creation is bursting with beauty and plenty. In the twenty-first century especially, we have the resources to surround ourselves with beauty every day. Why fill our lives with drab and colorless things when we could have rich, beautiful colors all around us? The same goes for music. Why listen to exclusively boring, crude, simplistic songs when we could immerse ourselves in wonderful, complex, beautiful, and endlessly interesting compositions?
As adults, we have the resources and acumen to choose beautiful, wonderful things like art music every day. Our children need to learn this. They can only learn by being taught. Adults should present the children in their life with good and wonderful things. To my students, art music is a thrilling world of fascinating, glorious, and funny-sounding instruments. Simply bringing my French horn to class and playing a few rusty notes for them enthralls them. They never get tired of listening to art music because they know they can pull out their invisible instruments or batons and play or conduct along with the piece. Simply seeing the joy of children listening to good music is enough reason to play it for them.
Why do we teach and learn music?
But why the urgency to teach music to children? Isn’t it commonly discussed how music programs in schools are shrinking? Certainly music is not a necessary part of a school’s curriculum, is it? Why do we teach music? Learning music certainly teaches many wonderful skills, but it goes beyond that. All this beauty and wonder we experience in music has a purpose—to bring us to know and love God. God, in His bounty, has literally written music into creation. The harmonies of music are a mathematical fact based on the physics of sound. The first person to play music discovered music; it wasn’t an invention. So when we learn about music, we are learning more about creation. When we learn more about creation, we learn more about the Creator. Knowing something or someone well leads to love of that thing or person. Listening and playing music, then, immerses us in God’s creation, leading us to love that creation and its Creator. Music leads to knowledge and love of God.
This knowledge and love of God is why music and music education are essential. In our world of Spotify and Apple Music, art music is not simply an aristocratic privilege. It is something everyone can readily access and understand. Furthermore, not all art music is necessarily high class. Many songs we listen to in school are based on folk songs or dances, something the common people would have listened to in the past. But all art music presents us with something complex that we can listen to again and again, continuing to discover new things about it. It is generally considered the best of the best. I don’t mean to discount other genres of music, which are also wonderful and joyful and worthy of listening to, but rather to encourage listening to the best we can.
And although I had to tell my first grader that we don’t often listen to Early Age composers simply because we don’t have as much written music from that era, I could inform him with joy that he already knows an “Early Age” song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Praise be to God for His Church that creates and upholds a glorious tradition of art music. Thanks be to Him for His abundance in creation and for giving His people the best of the best.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Vivaldi to listen to.
Want to learn about the hymns God gave His creation to sing during the Reformation era?