Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Classical Music and Children

by sarah - June 7, 2011.
Filed under: activism, composers. Tagged as: , , , , , .

NPR’s Classical Music blog, Deceptive Cadence, has been running a series on how to introduce and include children in classical music making and appreciating. The series has included many thoughtful comments by readers as well as guest-posts from some big names – including conductor Marin Alsop.

Not surprisingly, while the comments list a range of examples of composers or specific pieces, women’s work in music is not mentioned at all. (You can read some selected reader’s comments here).

It would seem to me that one simple way to invite children to participate with and become interested and invested in music making is to demonstrate that everybody has a right to become a music-maker, whether it is a composer, conductor, or performer. Part of appreciating music is learning how it was created, and by whom. Children are certainly getting enough of Bach, Beethoven and the other boys in the cursory music education provided in their school programs (at least the ones that haven’t been cut, or will be cut in the near future). It’s easy to forget that a mother’s lullaby is more likely than not the first music a child is exposed to.

Beyond Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, why not also discuss how Anna Magdalena worked with J.S. Bach to give a music education to all 20 children in their home? Or play Amy Beach’s Hermit Thrush at Morn and describe how she could listen to a bird’s song and transcribe it perfectly? Or give Ruth Crawford Seeger the credit that too-often is directly transferred to her husband for recording and sharing countless folk songs and rural music traditions, many of which are still sung routinely as part of early music education?

Children lead by example and are highly intuitive. If a young girl is never introduced to the idea that there are countless women who work, or have worked, as composers, what’s to say that she will ever entertain the notion for herself? The same can be said for children who are never exposed to women conducting orchestras.

I recently referred to an interview with Rachael Worby that ran in the New York Times. Worby, who has spoken openly about the resistances she has faced in pursuing a career in music due to her gender, spoke directly about the importance of such exposure:

Ms. Worby says she is thrilled that the children who see her on the podium know otherwise. “A teacher once came backstage at Carnegie Hall with a fifth-grade girl who spent the first 10 minutes of the concert asking, ‘When is the conductor coming out?’ ” Ms. Worby says. “Then the teacher realized that the girl was waiting for a man to appear, and she said, ‘That woman is the conductor.’ “

Introducing children to classical music, or any music, should also mean being vigilant about sharing and describing the diversity that exists but is all-too-easily ignored. Making sure that classical music traditions not only continue but thrive in future years depends on the excitement and eagerness of today’s young musicians. Is it not then vital to provide as complete a picture of what “classical music” looks and sounds like?

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