Play On! A Classical Guide For Kids

Getting your kids soaked in classical from an early age is a wonderful thing (provided they enjoy it, of course).  I’m sure there are loads of studies out there on the Inter-Webs or housed in dusty university libraries that will support my hypothesis:  classical music is really, really good for your kids’ rapidly developing brains.

My daughter definitely enjoys classical, and it’s been a joy to watch her absorb it.  We have played it for her literally since the day she was born.  She likes it as a background while playing, reading and eating breakfast and lunch, and will also request it when we’re in the car (if she’s not in a Raffi, Harry Connick Jr. or the new Broadway cast recording of Cinderella state of mind).  We took her to see a chamber performance of Peter and the Wolf, and they had an “instrument petting zoo” afterwards.  I have made it my mission to teach her that worlds of incredible music exist that have absolutely nothing to do with ridiculous purple dinosaurs or strange men from Australia.

I prefer, even for babies, classical recordings featuring the actual instruments for which the piece was written.  In other words, not Brahms’ Lullaby played on the vibraphone.  In my mind you’re never too young to hear a flute, an oboe or a cello.  (Word to the wise: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor sounds absolutely ridiculous on a vibraphone. Trust me.)

To me, one of the best things about classical music is that there is SO much of it.  There are worlds of Haydn and Boccherini and Smetana that I have yet to discover.  It’s nice to know that there will always be something new to hear, and as a parent, that makes weaving classical into your child’s life that much more exciting.  Below you’ll find what might be floating around our house, broken down into some very practical categories. Enjoy!

Music For The Sunrise: Grieg, “Morning Mood  From Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, this opener is delicate and lush.  It will also cause you to wonder if you’ve heard it in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. 

Music For Tickling: Mozart, Rondo alla Turca  Who knew classical piano could tickle you? Give it a try!

Music For Rainy Days: Chopin, Nocturne Opus 9 No. 1 in B-flat minor  All of Chopin’s nocturnes are perfect for days when rain is coursing down your windows, but I’ve always found this one particularly evocative.

Music For Stomping: Debussy, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”  The last movement of the wonderful six-movement “Children’s Corner Suite”.  A golliwog is an old-fashioned doll, and a cakewalk is…well, I just hope it involves actual cake.  Ooh, it does!  Thanks, Wikipedia!

Music For Running In Circles: Beethoven, Rondo a capriccio  Evgeny Kissin and his hair engulf the piano keys in flames in this live performance.  No need for running in circles, I’m exhausted just watching him.

Music For Laughing:  J. Strauss, Adele’s Laughing Aria (from “Die Fledermaus”) Sibling the Younger may or may not remember listening to this as children while jumping recklessly on my bed (and yes, laughing) when we were supposed to be sleeping.  It’s just that kind of piece.

Music For Hide-and-Seek: Britten, Simple Symphony, second movement, “Playful Pizzicato”  This piece is so much fun and has great texture.  Ready…get set…here I come!

Music For Flying:  Wagner, “Ride of the Valkyries (from “Die Walküre”)  And what a ride this is!  It’s SO powerful. Serendipitously, it saves you from sitting through the entirety of the opera “Die Walküre”, which is five hours long.

Music For Hurrying:  Rossini, Finale to the William Tell Overture  One afternoon, my daughter and I were trying to get to our local recycling center before it closed, and we were running behind.  I turned on the radio and of COURSE this was playing.  Hilarious.  We made it.

Music For Winding Down: Satie, Gymnopédie No. 1  So, so lovely.  I never tire of hearing those plaintive notes.

Music For Tiptoeing:  Grieg, “Anitra’s Dance  Henrik Ibsen wrote the play “Peer Gynt” (for which Grieg wrote the incidental music).  Being a thief, Anitra definitely needed to tiptoe!

Music For Stargazing: Holst, The Planets, second movement, “Venus”  One of my neighbors is a very bright sixth-grader for whom the universe holds great fascination and mystery.  This one’s for you!  It’s cool, quiet and perfect for picking out constellations.


The Reveling Sibs & Too Much Birthday

Well, as some of our multitude of followers (“There are dozens of us! DOZENS!”) may or may not know, the half of Sibling Revelry which is approximately 759 days older than the other half recently celebrated a birthday. To which all of her velveteen-pantalooned friends in the classical world gave a hearty and resounding “Huzzah!”


According to our probably infallible source, Sarah of the Janes shares a general birthday time period with such notable classical composers (and part-time professional wrestlers) as:

  • Deodat “I’d Deo Dat” de Severac!
  • Mauro Giuseppe Sergio Pantaleo “Rudy” Giuliani!
  • Andre Georges Louis “The Onslaught” Onslow!
  • And, last but not least…Wolfgang…..Amadeus……MOZART!!!!! (well, Junior. Known to his friends as Indiana or Indy.)

Now, the pipe-wielding thug descendants of the Hill Sisters may descend on us in a rage for this, but here are a couple classical and, yes, classy ways to render “Happy Birthday”! Many happy returns to my partner in unpopular publishing!

First, a moody, stirring version with theme and variation from the Kremlin’s chamber orchestra (their first album was Straight Outta Red Square):

Then Victor Borge doin’ his thing, running through a panoply of composers with impressions and pratfalls:

I’ll Counter That Tenor!

Well, the reveling sibs have clearly given in to the indolence of summer’s furnace. But lo! This morning broke cool, cloudy, and breezy over the nation’s capital and that’s when some of us get to work, like dwarves headin’ to the mines with pickaxes and a pretty girl at home.

Today on WAMU, the fantastic local NPR station whose delightfully NPRish slogan is “The mind is our medium,” there was a piece on Morning Edition about countertenors (Sibley the Younger loves the radio, if you haven’t noticed). The impetus was a new opera opening in Santa Fe called “Oscar.” Unfortunately, it’s not an operatic look at the Tragic Magician, George Oscar Bluth, but the Flamboyant Flâneur, Oscar Wilde. The countertenor in focus is David Daniels. Here is a link to the story, which Morning Edition helpfully kitted out with several examples of Daniels’s work:

I very much like the Schubert piece there, “Nacht und Träume.” But that’s not a surprise.

The piece called to mind an episode in the Sibs’ classical education which took place during the summer of either 1998 or 1999. ‘Twas the former, I believe, but my surety is low. We gaily traipsed one evening, during Mostly Mozart, to Avery Fisher Hall to hear Bach’s incomparable Mass in B Minor. It was the first time I’d ever heard it. And beforehand, there was a lecture on the piece in whatever that penthouse is called across the street. Suffice it to say it’s not the kind that receives letters of a certain nature. All in all a magnificent evening I’ll never forget (some of the pertinent data notwithstanding), in large part because the alto part was sung by a German countertenor by the name of Andreas Scholl.

I had never heard a countertenor before (recall that I’m not the choral nerd in our dynamic duo). Chills ran down my spine when he sang the lento, haunting “Agnus Dei,” as his voice filled the hall and reverberated. It is a wonderful movement because the instrumentation is exceedingly spare, allowing the voice to take and keep center stage. You won’t be sorry for listening to it, nor indeed seeing Andreas Scholl. Danke sehr, Internet, because a recording of him singing the Agnus Dei (qui tollis, as everyone knows, peccata mundi) exists on YouTube. As Uncle Jesse might say, miserere nobis indeed.

I realize I’m glossing over the physiological curio that is the male countertenor. I remember reading an interview with Scholl once, or perhaps it was in liner notes, where he said that he realized he had this capability only incrementally as he went through his singing education and development. I once asked a male opera singer whether he could just sort of “sing along” to recorded music like we plebeians (I was kind of hoping he’d belt out something like “Just What I Needed” in his opera voice). To his credit, he didn’t preface his response with either an eyeroll or a “Duh,” but told me quite simply it was a muscle that could be flexed to varying degrees. In other words, yes, he could blend in with mortals. You’d think I would have known that already, having grown up with a diva sharing a bedroom wall!