Sunday, May 6, 2012

Music History/Appreciation Media for my Young Child

Obviously, the most important part of appreciating music is being introduced to listening to the music itself.  There are many wonderful pieces of music with rich stories highly appropriate for children.  The most well known of these is probably either The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Peter and the Wolf.  However, there are also wonderful books to read with your child about music and a host of online resources as well.  I have listed only a few of these here.

For sources for music itself check out this article about Children's Music Alternatives (multiple genres).

Zin Zin Zin, A Violin
This wonderful book Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman introduces children to different instruments through poetry and beautiful illustration.  The book begins with one solo trombone and continues on counting up the duet, trio, quartet and so on until most of the orchestra is assembled.  Not only is this book a great way to discuss counting with a very young child, but it also could be used as a wonderful tool for introducing the instruments of the orchestra and classical music to a preschool child.  Three instrument families are introduced in the following order, brass, string, woodwind.  I really don't know why percussion was not included except that the book may have become too long.  

The Story of the Orchestra
This fabulous book and CD combo is GREAT for introducing kids to the basics of the symphony/orchestra.  It gives a brief overview of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern Eras by introducing kids to a clip of music from master composers that helped to shape or characterize the period being described.  The second (and largest) portion of the book and disk is the part organized by instrument family.  A short piece of music highlighting each instrument family and then a number of its individual members is included along with pictures of each instrument and historical trivia relating to each instrument.  "Orchestra Bob" makes things clear and even funny as he takes us through the basics of the Orchestra.  Song choices include things like Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" and Paul Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice".  The tidbits of information given about each piece of music chosen give kids a "story" to keep them engaged, entertained and wanting more.

The Conductor
Laetitia Devernay Illustrated this story in such a whimsical way that it requires no text whatsoever.  The tall, slender shape of the book gives you the feeling of a conductor standing tall at the podium right from the get-go and her illustrations show how the movement of the music can feel with it swells and swirls.  The feeling of the music is so present and clear that I kept looking for somewhere on the book cover where it would tell which piece of music Devernay had been listening to when the book was illustrated.  Even though it is a wordless tale, I'd recommend it to any family that appreciates great art - not just the very young.

Ah, Music
This poetic description of what Music is, is rich with sophisticated musical concepts placed on the page with the simple beauty characteristic of Aliki's books.  Many pages are headed with the phrase "Music is" and then the statement is elaborated on with illustrations that depict the concept perfectly and are accompanied by simple, but brief descriptions or definitions that further understanding of the musical concept at hand.  The book begins: "Music is Sound, Music is Rhythm, Music is" . . .  The book takes its reader right through the basic concepts of music and its history right up to "pop music".  Enjoy it today. 

Children's Book of Music
This is a visual non-fiction book that takes the child right through the entirety of music history from the very first instruments all the way through to today's "pop".  It comes with a CD that has short selections that very helpfully illustrate the concepts or points in history discussed in the pages meant to accompany each track.  Good for an introduction into music history for any elementary child and even useful as a jumping off point for older children, this book has been very helpful in our house.

How Did That Get to My House? Music
This short and simple book is perfect for the early reader interested in how things are made as well as the early reader interested in music.  Sentences are short, each page layout includes about a paragraph of text and the bright pictures balance each layout nicely.  The book introduces what music is and then takes the reader through how a song is made, recorded and then produced for sale.

Learn to Speak Music
This book is definitely for the slightly older Elementary Set (4th or 5th grade) and older, but with a passionately interested kid, a slightly younger child might enjoy it - especially broken down into smaller packages and read by chapter.  This book is less about music history and more about creating its future.  How is music learned, played, recorded?  The book is clearly a non-fiction book, but it is written as though the author and child were having their own conversation.  This first-person style makes it feel much more personal than many non-fiction books out there.  Chapters discuss everything from why we seem to enjoy listening to music to how to how to record your own music, make a music video and how to get word out about your band.

I, Vivaldi
This is historical fiction picture book by Janice Shefelman and Illustrated by Tom Shefelman is an interesting look at what it might have been like to grow up as Antonia Lucio Vivaldi, and eventually become the Red Priest who was really one of the world's great musicians.  Colorful and with feeling most children can relate it is a great way to give a little story behind the composer of "The Four Seasons" when you introduce any of the movements from this beautiful creation.

This list is not nearly an exhaustive list.  There are many books that introduce a piece of music by illustrating the lyrics or story of a particular song.  For example, Camille Saint Saen's Carnival of the animals has been packaged in a book and Disc set illustrated by Charles Dutroit.  There are folk songs done this way too.  "Joseph Had a Little Overcoat" by Simms Taback is a wonderful and award-winning example of this music book style.  You can also find "Forever Young" a re-interpretation of the lyrics of this famous song by Bob Dylan into a children's book. The illustrations by Paul Rogers were inspired by Dylan's songs and pieces of Dylan's life.  I do look forward to writing future posts addressing additional books like these, along with activities to try.

There are also a multitude of books about a piece of history or entire way of life, or that recognize a culture.  A great example of this type of book is "Red Bird Sings" which tells the story of Zitkala-Sa, a Native American Author, Musician, and Activist, and "Follow the Drinking Gourd" that uses the lyrics of this spiritual to guide slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.  Look for these types of books to be listed among other children's books about the same piece of history. 

Please feel free to write a comment and suggest other books you have encountered you found useful, inspiring, or just fun in your own educational endeavors with your child.

Fantasia (The Movies)
This set of movies has quite a history and was never intended to remain static, therefore, it is nearly impossible to view the true "original".  However, the most popular version and the one thought by many to be the "original" is easy to find.  It is the 1940 version after some editorial cuts were made in order to cover over some racial depictions during "pastoral symphony".  Many people believe it was wrong to edit this out as it is a part of our history so you CAN find both versions online.  Personally, I am glad the there is an edited version we can show to our young children without exposing them to the "servant girl" originally in the scene while at the same time, the racist version can be viewed by those who wish to view it for historically educational purposes.  In this version, the interludes between musical pieces describe a little about the music itself or the history of the music you will soon hear.  If you would rather not view the interludes, I highly suggest making sure you do not skip "The Soundtrack" clip from the "original" in your viewing experience.  As this interlude may be especially informative to the young child about sound and sound vocabulary.  

There is also the more recent, Fantasia 2000 with an entirely different set of musical and animated masterpieces.  The interludes for Fantasia 2000 are less musically educational and tend to be somewhat more focused on Disney History.  

Many clips and bits from both Fantasias can be found online.  However, both versions listed here are easy to rent and well worth seeing in their uninterrupted entirety.  Both versions do have portions that may be scary for especially young children, so you may want to preview and show only the pieces you feel most appropriate for your child or children.

Along with these books and videos you and your children could take a look and a listen to the sites listed below and really have an enriching educational experience together.  As always, view any clips before hand to make sure the content and vocabulary level is appropriate for your child.  See if you can find a clip of sound and a photo for each instrument about which you read.

For Your Preschooler - here are some clips that are great fun from Sesame Street (Sorry, I guess woodwinds other than sax) are hard for SS to handle as I am not finding many clips for this instrument family):

For even more resources and activities:
  • This website is a classic for kids because it has all sorts of learning games, sound bytes, and visual information about classical music. 
  • The Piano Student has music curricula designed for homeschooling families

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