Teaching Classical Music for the Musically Challenged, Part One
Let me start by saying—I am not an expert in music history. I do not have a music history background. But I want kids to learn about it—it’s exciting to see how these composers and their musical styles fit in with history. I love seeing them as real people! The good news? You don’t have to be an expert to teach your kids, either. If I can do this – so can you!
In the past, many of us have had at least some kind of exposure to classical music, but with the growth of contemporary Christian music in our society, and the popularity of contemporary music in church services, many of our children don’t even know what an organ is!
Reasons to study the classical composers and classical music
- Many hymns were written by classical composers.
- Studying classical composers is another opportunity to see how God uses broken vessels (just like us) to bring Him glory.
- God is a God of order and beauty. Classical music gives us a glimpse into an amazing combination of and order and beauty.
- God gave us the gift of music and tells us to use music in our praise and celebration of Him.
- Some knowledge of classical music is part of a well-rounded, western education.
- Studies have suggested that listening to classical music may improve – at least temporarily – spatial-temporal reasoning.
- Studying composers may spark an interest in learning to play an instrument.
- Studying composers makes listening to classical music more interesting. It can all sound the same until you know more about what you are hearing.
Theme verse: Ephesians 5:18-21 (NKJ)
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
Let’s Define Terms
What is classical music? According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition is:
”of, relating to, or being music in the educated European tradition that includes such forms as:
- Art song
- Chamber music
. . . as distinguished from folk or popular music or jazz.”
Music historians classifysix periods of music but I will concentrate on the last four.
1) Medieval: before 1400
2) Renaissance: 1400—1600
3) Baroque: mid 1600’s to mid 1700’s
4) Classical: mid 1700’s to early 1800’s
5) Romantic: 1800’s to early 1900’s
Remember that all of these eras overlap. Some composers were innovators and would start something new, while other composers were still working with the previous forms, so there are no cut and dry dates here, but these dates give you some idea. This is also why, as you research, different books will assign composers to different eras.
I highly recommend studying composers in their proper chronological order—the advancements each one makes progresses from those who have gone before. Additionally, by seeing them in their historic context, you will hopefully “bump into” them again in history class, helping your children to see them as real men and women.
- The more you read, the more conflicting information you will come across in dates, spellings, which era a composer belongs to, and more. The older a composer, the harder it is to find verifiable information.
- Although there were many godly composers, it won’t take long before you bump up against men with extremely immoral lifestyles. (This is why I don’t discuss Richard Wagner.) Be wise in what you share and what research you have your students do. [Proverbs 2:10: When wisdom enters your heart and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you.]
Maggie Hogan is an author, publisher, and nationally–recognized speaker who is easily distracted by all things geography, history, and book related. She is the co-author of Young Scholars Guide to Composers, The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, and other homeschooling books.
She mostly lives in Dover, DE with her husband, Bob, where they run Bright Ideas Press, a homeschool company dedicated to bringing the best practical, fun, and affordable materials to the market. Along with their youngest son Tyler, they publish the “Illuminations” program as well as the award winning Mystery of History series, Christian Kids Explore series, WonderMaps, and much more! www.brightideaspress.com.
Although her two sons are grown, she’s thinking about writing a “homeschooling baby” curriculum now that she is the grandma of 2 little girls! She’s passionate about Christ, her family, books, travel, homeschooling, and coffee—not necessarily in that order. Look for her online on FB and Twitter under @MaggieSHogan.