From the time I first began reading about homeschooling and Charlotte Mason, I knew I wanted our family to study various classical composers.
After a year or so of never getting to it, I finally let go of my perfectionism a couple of months ago and just did something.
If you, too, have been wanting to begin a composer study and haven't been able to bring yourself to start, try these tips:
1 - Just do it. Choose a composer. It doesn't matter who! Better yet? Let your kids pick! Several years ago I found a great deal on a set of 10 classical cds of 10 different composers. It has mostly been sitting on the shelf. One day in early October, Dale was looking over our little collection. I asked him to choose one for us to listen to. He chose Strauss. I never asked him why. My guess is just because of the funny hat he was wearing on the cover painting.
2 - Start listening. We often spend a lot of time in the car. This is a great time for us to spend listening to music together. Choose a consistent time that works for your family. Mealtimes, chore time, rest time... you may have to experiment before making it routine.
3 - Do just a little bit of research. This part can be so easy. Google the name of the composer o'the month. Wikipedia is usually a good source. We like a little bit of basic biographical information: When & where he was born/died, and anything he may have been particularly known for. For example: Strauss was also known as "the king of the waltz." Little bits of information like this are easy to review each time you listen.
4 - Keep listening together:
- Stick with one composer for at least a month. It takes some repetition to become familiar with particular pieces and develop favorites.
- Point out which pieces are well known. Strauss' "Blue Danube" for example. You might be surprised to start recognizing classical pieces everywhere: tv commercials, cell phone ringers, and even musical toys!
- Learn the names of each piece. Composers like Strauss, whose pieces have 'real' names (instead of "Concerto in A minor for flute" or some such) tend to be easier.
- Point out different instruments you can hear. Even if you don't have a background in music, you can hear the difference between a trumpet and a snare drum, yes? Watching YouTube videos of concerts is a great way to see the instruments in action. My boys love picking an instrument to pretend to play along with a piece. Sometimes they even choose to be the conductor!
5 - Do extras, but don't force what isn't working. Our first composer was Strauss. Strauss was a big hit. We watched YouTube videos, and listened every time we got in the car. It wasn't long at all until both boys (6 & 3) were humming his tunes and requesting favorites by name.
For month two, Dale chose Vivaldi. Again, no rhyme or reason to his choosing. Vivaldi wasn't as successful as Strauss, but we still learned things, and were still exposed to a month's worth of listening to his work. Even so, after listening to a few pieces of Vivaldi, someone would request Strauss and back we went to our old favorite.
Since our school load is a little lighter this month, I have put a little more into our composer study. I chose this month, and went with Tchaikovsky, for the Nutcracker, it being Christmas and all. We checked out a few picture books from the library that tell the Nutcracker story, and we're almost halfway through this 16 video series of the ballet on YouTube, but only because we like it! If it was work, we wouldn't do it.
Music study should be enjoyable, not a chore. It doesn't have to be work for you to prepare for and fit yet one more thing into your curriculum everyday. It doesn't have to be work for your kids, centered around worksheets and research reports. After you've given your composer a fair chance for a month or so, move on. You don't have to love his stuff (but you might) and you don't have to be able to list or recognize an extensive list of works (but you might), and you don't have to know his entire life story (but you might!).
The key is listening: listening actively, listening together, and listening often!
Do you have a favorite composer? We are open to suggestions for January!