by guest blogger, Ethan McBee
Before we start, I feel should admit that my personally warped childhood greatly influenced the music that I still enjoy listening to today. Having two musical parents, the classical music station was a preset in every car my family has ever owned, and, yes, we listened to it for fun and occasionally played “Who’s That Composer?” While most children do not have exposure to that same repertoire of music, it is still vital that they experience something other than the music they hear on the top-forty countdown. Unfortunately, it might not be uncommon for teachers to be dealt a classroom of kids that have no interest in Mozart and, instead, want to blast Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. If this describes your current situation, don’t lose hope just yet, as there are plenty of ways through which you can open their minds to the great geniuses of yesteryears.
Assimilating this music is actually easier than most teachers think. First of all, it is important to remember that exposure serves as the key foundation for students to build a relationship with classical music. Though teachers can write the name of the composer along with the title and year on the blackboard, simply having it in the background will provide a solid introduction; nonmusical educators will also reap rewards, as classical music has been proven to reduce anxiety and help students pay attention. This exposure can be as simple as playing something quiet and soothing during study times or while students are taking a test in other classes (with the other educators’ permission of course). Something such as Debussy’s Rêverie or Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun are two quieter, relaxing pieces that work quite well as background music.
Of course, students can only sit in their chairs and be creative for so long. A great way to get the students active is to have them create physical actions that correspond to the music. I have found that Sousa marches work very well for this activity because there are distinct sections in the music. Perhaps the first part is loud and bombastic and one student says it reminds them of airplanes. Using as much space as you can, fly around the room like an airplane during this part. Since the middle part might be quiet and serene, another student says it reminds her of a ballerina. Let the pirouettes fill the room! Feel free to experiment with all the different sections of the music. See what the kids come up with and let them dance.
One common complaint children have about classical music is that it is simply irrelevant to their 21st-century lives; therefore, why not show them various ways this genre is utilized in pop culture and perhaps even find the sheet music. A prime example of this is video games; games like Uncharted and Final Fantasy have sold millions of copies and won numerous awards, so there are bound to be handfuls of fans among your students. Each game has its own original orchestral soundtrack that has been performed (and in most cases uploaded to YouTube) by young musicians and some of the best orchestras in the world like The Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra in Boston.
By exposing your students to how game designers use the musical score to create atmosphere and emotion, you will show students how relevant classical music is in their day-to-day lives (as well as make it cool). Popular movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter may be another vehicle through which you can demonstrate the power of classical music. Have the students watch the film and pick out the instruments that are being played during certain scenes, document when musical strong points occur, and perhaps have your pupils write or talk about the effects that classical music had on driving the story and engaging the audience. This will be a great way to get them to connect intellectually with classical music that can serve as a gateway to more historically-famous composers.
Many students do not have the opportunity to see a professional symphony orchestra play on a stage outside of their schools, so it would make a different and fun field trip to accompany their newly-acquired knowledge to visit even a contemporary recital. Your pupils may return with a piqued curiosity about the drums or violin and may be eager to give them spin, so make sure that you’re ready with plenty of classroom instruments (click here to get started).
While not all students had the same upbringing as I did, that does not mean that they cannot enjoy classical music the same way that I do. With a little help from their teachers, every student can gain a greater knowledge and appreciation of classical music, a gift that lasts far beyond the classroom.
Ethan McBee is currently an undergraduate studying secondary education at Concordia University Chicago. He has been a member of numerous choirs, musical ensembles, musical theater, and has been involved with the National Association for Music Educators. As a student and scholar of aesthetics, he strives to incorporate the arts into as much of the classroom as possible in the hope of fostering a love and appreciation for the discipline with his students.