So you’re introducing your child to classical music. Congratulations! Few experiences in your life will be more satisfying…for you.
As for the kids, they probably won’t hate you. That’s all you can hope, and no wonder. Surrounded by mediocre music that panders to them, how can kids be seduced by great music that makes demands on them?
Give or take a Carnival of the Animals, Bach, Mozart, et al. didn’t spend much time worrying about acceptance by 6-year-olds. All they did was write their music; all you need to do is listen to it. So enjoy these tapes and videos; their adult appeal is strong. If they interest your child in inverse proportion to the amount of music they contain, remember: Kids learn by example, and osmosis.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Studio Arts Orchestra, Walter Babiak conducting
Combining a child’s viewpoint and a master’s touch, Beethoven Lives Upstairs is a funny and moving audio biography. It’s the best of the excellent Classical Kids series, which also features an outstanding journey into the world of opera, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, reviewed here last year (grade: A). Beethoven rents rooms from a Vienna widow. His quirks — playing legless pianos all night, working in the nude all day — embarrass her young son, Christoph, who expresses his frustration in letters to a musical uncle: ”Today Mr. Beethoven came downstairs, and it was as if a bear had dropped in to tea.” Finally, to the strains of ”Moonlight Sonata,” understanding: ”Mr. Beethoven works so hard because he believes that music can change the world.” Excerpts of Beethoven’s work abound, but the focus of this partly fictionalized study is the man, whose deafness, strength, and humanity are treated with remarkable depth of feeling. A
Carnival of the Animals
A half hour of Saint-Saens’ lilting music and Ogden Nash’s hilarious verse. Carnival uses animation, film, and a tour of the San Diego Zoo to introduce kids to several species, including musicians. Watching a tortoise race, we hear: ”Come carve my name in stone immortal/I know the tortoise is a tortle.” The best moment: dueling baby grands in the giraffe park, with the sign, ”Please Do Not Feed the Pianists.” Narrator Gary Burghoff (of M*A*S*H) is so unaffected he can skip through the zoo with a pack of pre-schoolers and not look silly. My 3-year-old gazed in thumb-sucking, hair-twirling rapture. A
Bartók and Kodály
The Crofut Consort, with Julianne Baird and the Boston University Women’s Chorus
Like any culturally alert parent, I dreamed of dressing my child in peasant costume and having her perform something precocious: say, Romanian folk dances. Thanks to the six minutes of Romanian folk dances on Bartók and Kodály, I know that the child in my house, the one whining for The Little Mermaid soundtrack, is not the child in my dream. Oh, well. This sampling of Hungary’s two great modern composers pleased me anyway. Amid piano exercises and choruses for young singers are classics like Kodály’s ”Ave Maria.” And if you insist that little Justin or Jennifer ”just adores Bartók,” who’s to know the truth? A-
The Classical Child, Vols. I and II
These familiar pieces, according to the press release, are ”lightly orchestrated” with synthesizer ”in shortened identifiable form.” The Cliffs Notes approach is okay if the pieces really are identifiable. Some of these selections aren’t. Anticipating chills at a recasting of Bach’s majestic ”Wachet Auf,” I was dismayed to hear what sounded like Ping-Pong balls. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 could have been two talented children playing ”Chopsticks.” Sometimes ”light” is lightweight. But sometimes , it works, especially with music you heard first on Top 40 radio. Thanks to a ’60s rock version of his ”Gymnopedia,” I once thought neoclassical French composer Erik Satie (who died in 1925) was a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears. The ”classical” version here is even better. Pop-friendly melodies like Bach’s ”Anna Magdalena” are actually enhanced by this simplifying technique. B+
The Life, Music and Times of the World’s Greatest Composers
Three albums: Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach; narrated by John M. Carlton
The term-paper recording: hardly snazzy, but useful. Music illiterates won’t find a better resource than Life, Music and Times. John Carlton’s stentorian, Peter Graves- like tones mingle with the immortal sounds of Beethoven’s Sixth and ”Swan Lake.” Life and Art, for an instant, are one. Life, Music is simplistic but it gets the job done. Carlton loves to showcase suffering as the path to Art; in the case of Tchaikovsky (”fate is like a sharp knife…slowly dripping poison into our souls”) and Beethoven (”I love a tree more than a man”), his quotes are right on the mark. Bach, on the other hand, led a pretty dull life, which Carlton captures perfectly. ”The accurate transcription of music,” he says, ”was a (lifelong) habit.” Snore, and learn. B+
Who’s Afraid of Opera?
I was afraid of opera before I watched Joan Sutherland in half-hour condensed video versions of La Traviata, Daughter of the Regiment, and the like. Now I’m just afraid of Joan Sutherland. With her jutting jaw and daunting reputation, Sutherland is more monument than TV star; if she weren’t a good sport, she’d overwhelm these productions. Instead, she introduces them, explaining the action to three puppets who represent her young audience. Sutherland, 62, is long in the tooth for the young girl lead in La Traviata, a fact that might be missed in an opera house but shows on screen. Kids may notice. The Barber of Seville, practically a sitcom anyway, works best: My child laughed in the right spots, even without subtitles or translations. B+