Friday, September 7, 2012

Classics for Kids to Know - Fairy Tale Classics

There are a few classical pieces of music that are absolutely perfect for elementary aged kids (well any kid really) to know because they are based on stories that speak to the child in all of us.  Read the stories behind the music together first and then listen and discuss how the music is used to show characters, settings and moods with your child.  A few more example questions you can explore together: Which instruments are most suited to the "bad guys" and which instruments are used most often to depict the "hero"?  What do all hero's themes have in common?  How does changing a theme's tempo change the emotion depicted?

Peter and the Wolf:
So yes, this one by Sergei Prokofiev is a little obvious, but that is exactly why it belongs on this list. There are many renditions of this classic that was specifically written for children. It makes it easy to introduce children to a variety of aspects of music in general as well. Concepts like themes and tone are easily introduced because they can easily be pointed out in the piece.  The same is true of many of the orchestral instruments, the families to which they belong and how they each sound. Besides, its a good story. Additionally, you can "watch" the story take place with either Disney's Version or the Oscar Winning and more recent version directed and animated by Suzie Templeton with the musical performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Mark Stephenson.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice:

This fairy tale (Der Zauberlehrling) is far older than the music it was set to by Paul Dukas in, 1896, but that doesn't make it any less valid as a fabulous piece of music with which kids should be familiar. Dukas credits the tale behind his musical ballad to a 1797 poem by Goethe. As a lover of the bassoon, Dukas features this instrument prominently throughout most of the ballad.  Listen for the three main themes in the piece together and see if you can pick them out and sing them to each-other after a few listening sessions.  The building and swelling sound of the music will relate well for kids even without Micky fighting his accidental broom army. I'd recommend introducing your child to the story (bedtime reading?) and then the music and finally Disney's Fantasia version of the tale so they can imagine it their own way first. Of course some children's fairy tale treasuries contain a written version of the tale and there are stand-alone picture book versions as well. I've seen a few with gorgeous illustrations (David Wiesner's for one), I would only recommend staying away from the Disney depictions in books to give your child exposure to a variety of visual interpretations. Listen to the music and THEN watch the version from Fantasia.

The Ballet:
Of course everyone knows about The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.  Both of which are well known for their story, choreography AND music, But many Ballets are fairy tales set to beautiful compositions as well.  Ballets such as Coppelia, which was based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the music composed by Leo Delibes shouldn't be ignored.  What fun it is to try to dance like a wind-up doll during the music for act II in the workshop. (The "Musique Des Automates")  The Cheerful Mazurka will also most likely sound familiar and be a great piece for just having fun dancing about together.  Another ballet about toys coming to life is that of Petrouchka composed by Igor Stravinsky.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast were also all put to music as were Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (and a few others that don't fall into the category of "Fairy Tale").  A great resource for information about ballets for kids is the book, "A Child's Introduction to Ballet" by Laura Lee.  The book even comes with a CD of clips of music from each of the ballets discussed.  Many of these ballets can be found (at least in part) on youtube. 

If you liked this article, you might also like: Music Skills for Toddlers: Introducing Tempo

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