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A Classic Encounter With The Kids

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terri-1 Terri Hemmert
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If you love music, from rock to soul to jazz to classical, there comes a time in life where you realize that it’s your job to make sure the next generations know and appreciate the music that has made your life the rich one it is.  It’s in a music lover’s DNA.  In fact, you might want to gather your young ones around the computer and have them watch these videos with you.  Big fun for all ages.

The latest Classic Encounter program with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the CSO’s Martha Gilmer, featured an excellent performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.  Britten was a British (how convenient) composer, conductor and pianist, born 1913, died 1976.  In 1946 he was commissioned to compose a piece that would introduce young people to the joys of classical music.  It was for an educational documentary film called The Instruments Of The Orchestra.  It’s built around a theme by Henry Purcell.

Britten’s piece is still used in children’s music education programs.  It was composed with a narration.  But it has often been performed and recorded without narration.  The piece works either way.  Without narration it a chance for the sections of the orchestra to show off.  And the CSO has room for bragging rights.  The percussion section rocked, and the double basses sounded fantastic!

There are other works out there for kids.  The record that changed my young life and taught me the the instruments of the orchestra was Tubby The Tuba.  I wore out the grooves of that poor record.  Music nerd at an early age.  And look where it got me.

Another composition for kids is by the French composer Camile Saint-Saens.  Carnival Of The Animals has been performed by many great ensembles, but nobody does it better than Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck!

Walt Disney got into the act as well.  In fact a lot of early cartoons from Disney and other producers used classical music for the background music of their cartoons.  A lot of us growing up then heard a lot of classical music when we weren’t even aware.  Subliminal.  But Disney’s production of Fantasia was an obvious attempt to educate the young.  The first production was in 1940 with Leopold Stokowski, and they covered pieces by Bach, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and this one by Mussorgsky.

They did a sequel decades later, Fantasia 2000, that featured our our CSO.  In fact there will be a performance, the CSO live with the movie, the evening after Thanksgiving.  Visit http://www.cso.org for ticket information.

Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf uses storytelling to introduce the young listener to the instruments of the orchestra.  This features narration and has been recorded by a gazillion people including Arthur Godfrey, Boris Karloff, Leonard Bernstein, Sean Connery, Will Geer, Captain Kangaroo, Mia Farrow, Lorne Green, Carol Channing, William F. Buckley, Sting and David Bowie.

I think the all time great musical communicator with kids is the amazing Leonard Bernstein.  With the New York Philharmonic, he would broadcast these remarkable Young People’s Concerts on CBS TV from 1958 until 1972.  He would be funny, reference contemporary artists like Elvis and The Beatles, but he never dumbed it down.  And the kids got in.  It was an amazing program, and a 9 DVD box set is available and well worth it.  And if you go online to order this DVD set, check out A Time There Was, a documentary on Benjamin Britten.  His life was complicated by his pacifism during World War II,  and his homosexuality when that could end with a prison sentence.  Watch that one after the kids are down for the night.  This segment of Young People’s Concerts is on what is a melody, and  features a reference to another piece we heard at Symphony Center that evening, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

There are some rock artists that reach out to children in many ways and for many purposes.  The Beatles often showed a child like quality in their songs.  Here’s a prime example.

Other rock bands and artists record for kids…Dan Zanes  (of the Del Fuegos), Ralph Covert (of the Bad Examples), Ozomatli, Trout Fishing In America, Los Lobos, Jewel, Ziggy Marley, The Verve Pipe, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Jack Johnson, and others.  My fave is They Might Be Giants.  They help with the alphabet, counting, and the dreaded science.  I learn a lot from these guys.

There’s plenty of outreach from the jazz community as well.  Esperanza Spalding does that with music and dialogue.  We grown-ups can learn too if we pay attention.

And Wynton Marsalis has recorded an album of Snoopy songs, with some great arrangements and playing.  Kids get this sound in their head and it will open them up for the rest of their lives.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

So bring the kids over to the computer and share this with them.  You could spread it out over several days.  Britten and others has given us great tools to reach out to children of all ages to open them to new musical sounds.  This is life changing stuff.  Get them to play an instrument.  To sing in a choir.  The arts impact young lives in so many ways.  Yet that’s always the first thing to go when they cut school programs to balance the budget.  So pick up the slack.  Let us know what works you have used with your kids.  And don’t forget, any teacher worth their salt is constantly learning.  That’s what draws a lot of us to this endeavor.  The journey of discovery never ends.

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