Teachers, do you know the Mozart Rondo in A minor? Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1? Perhaps you, like many Americans, prefer to stick with what you know when you play music for children. It is certainly understandable. When I started teaching, I mostly played this music in my classroom because my undergraduate degree was in music. I knew “classical” music through and through. I was trained to identify Beethoven in two bars. I still can! So why should you, as a teacher, use music you are less familiar with? After all, the children won’t like it, will they? Not so, of course. Young children love music, and do not discriminate, as adults do, on the basis of genre. Just as they do not on the basis of race or culture. Music penetrates their undefended hearts.
Let me say that I myself had a learning curve once I began teaching young children. Multi-cultural classrooms enticed me into multi-cultural musical genres. Other genres caught my attention on iTunes and I introduced those as well. In my years of teaching preschool, I played all of these musical gems in the background during centers. Placing instruments or scarves near my boom box, children could participate in the artists’ music making. During Vivaldi’s concerto, Summer, the storm sequence (presto), two little boys spontaneously invented a partner dance that reflected the energy of the piece. Jittering their bodies in place, making claws with their hands as they looked at each other, they expressed the feelings of the music as they experienced it. This is called creative movement and meets a national dance standard for pre-k. The way the children danced was play-based because it was spontaneously chosen. They started and stopped at will. So using classical music created an opportunity for play-based learning.
I have taught college students that there is no end to the possibilities of playing music for young children, and they have proved my point by bringing in anecdotes such as this one, involving behavior management: A teacher was substituting in a classroom of threes. The children were “off the wall”. I had taught her about how music from the Baroque period, especially, created a more purposeful and balanced atmosphere for children during play due to its steady beat (Baroque composers believed in keeping the beat steady in each movement. The beat is called the tactus). So, at her wit’s end, she put on Vivaldi. The mood in her classroom shifted to one of calm, and the children stayed longer at their chosen activities.
This, of course, is anecdotal information, but there is ample research available to prove the point. For me, no proof is needed. When I played the opening from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana for a class of teachers, and told them children could benefit from this music, they looked at me in horror. “It will scare them!”, they said. So I took it to the voters, my preschoolers, as an experiment. I played the opening of the piece and they, sitting in a circle on the floor, began pounding their heels into the carpet, ecstatic smiles on their faces. I gave them feeling words to choose from to express their response. Only two words resonated: Happy, and excited. Needless to say, they wanted to stand and dance.
My last anecdote involves using music for art experiences. What happens when children draw while listening to Mozart? My teaching partner and I put paper and markers on the tables, inviting children to listen and draw their feelings. The piece was the Rondo in A minor. Peace descended on the room, while children drew whatever felt right to them. A boy who was always moving and jumping (we called him Tigger) leaned back in his chair and sighed, “I love this song”.
Don’t ignore classical music in the classroom. I know Laurie Berkner and Hap Palmer are wonderful and their CD's are useful for scripted group movement, but nothing beats the power of the classics. Listen here to Bach speaking to you, then watch adults respond to Ben Zander’s Ted talk about The Power of Classical Music. Let this music penetrate your undefended heart.