Read On! A Classical (Book) Guide For Kids

At my house, amidst the buzzing-hive joy and chaos of everyday life, you will find two constants: music being played and books being read.  Every now and then, the twain meet, and we’re always happy to find a great children’s book about classical music.  I love them because they meet kids on their level, making classical music fun, interesting, and most importantly, approachable.  Here are three of our favorites.  We hope they’ll find their way into your home!

zinzinzinZin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! (Lloyd Moss, ages 4-8) For many years I listened to the rich baritone of Lloyd Moss, the much-beloved program host on WQXR. Little did I know that one day I would be reading his wonderful book to my children. Written in witty rhyme, the story highlights each member of an orchestra as they enter the stage for a concert.  Children will learn to identify each instrument, and may even remember the musical terms for each successive grouping (solo, duo, trio, quartet etc.). The Caldecott Honor-receiving illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are colorful and energetic- if you look closely, each player resembles their instrument! Two cats, a dog, and a mouse add to the fun with their onstage antics.

berliozBerlioz The Bear (Jan Brett, ages 4-8) Could there be a better name for a bear musician?  We were already big fans of this wonderful author and illustrator and were thrilled to discover her charming story about Berlioz, a nattily dressed, double-bass playing bear who is beleaguered by a strange buzzing sound in his instrument just before his orchestra is to play a big concert.  In Berlioz’s ursine group are a French horn player, a violinist, a clarinetist, bass drum player and trombonist.  After a hole in the road sidelines the bears’ “bandwagon” and threatens to make them late to their performance, many friends try to help…but the buzzing ends up saving the day!   I asked my five-year-old daughter what she likes the best about Berlioz The Bear, and she replied that seeing all the animals go into the town square to get ready for the concert is her favorite (Brett’s page-border illustrations add a particularly wonderful element to the story). She also likes that the orchestra plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” for their encore, noting that “it’s fast and sounds like a bumblebee”. It’s also a fitting homage to the hero of the story.

39aptsThe 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven (Jonah Winter, ages 4-9) Not only did Beethoven own five pianos, he owned five legless pianos.  Apparently the composer enjoyed composing on the floor!  Music history tells us that Beethoven lived in 39 apartments over the course of his life, but this funny, quirky story surmises exactly why he moved so many times (A stinky cheese smell? Fraülein Hausfrau couldn’t take the noise?). I crack up every time I see the illustration of baby Ludwig emitting some suspiciously famous-sounding cries: Wah wah wah waaah!  Barry Blitt’s illustrations are wonderful, and since Beethoven was such a genius it makes sense that he is depicted with an oversized cranium.

musiciansWhen we’ve worn these three ragged, I’m looking forward to diving into Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt (another artist fond of enlarging composers’ heads!). Short chapters and engaging pictures are sure to provide another wonderful window into the lives of composers.  Bonus: I learn a lot, too!

Happy Wednesday, dear Revelers!


A Prell-Yood: Wherefore Art Thou Bach?

Good morning, Sib2 here 24:00 late and $1.00 short. Depending on the calendar you use (a decision everyone has to make upon awaking, each and every day), yesterday could have marked the birthday of my favorite composer (or at the very least, primus inter pares), Johann Sebastian Bach. My elder genetic compatriot beat me to the punch, but her post was a magnificent hodgepodge of many things that we love: Bach, WQXR, Chris Thile, yellow socks, bad punnery. ‘Twas marvy. By the way, don’t think for a second his general dishevellery isn’t strategically calculated to win the hearts and minds of the fairer gender. I mean, he’s no Jesse (“It’s James, actually, but everybody always calls me Jesse.”), but that’s not a fair measuring stick.

My digression syndrome is in full swing today, I see. Anyhoozlebees, I’m not going to delve very far into the calendar thing. It has vaguely to do with Catholicism. Bach’s birthday is somewhere around now, and if that was good enough for Jackson, and good enough for Lee, then hot damn, Alabam’, it’s good enough for me.

To the extent the birthday of a classical composer can be “crushed,” WQXR is crushing what SibRev is calling Bach-analia. Bach 360°, a campaign to broadcast every note the great one ever wrote (Every. Note. Are you impressed yet?), complete with Bach-o-meter? A Bach pun generator? “My hat, what a picnic,” as one of the Narnia characters says. I think it’s from The Magician’s Nephew. WQXR also amply reminds we citizens of the U.S. of frickin’ A. that New York is unreservedly, unequivocally our capital of classical music. Far from the lovely Avery Fisher Hall, some renegade musicians are takin’ classical to the streets: Bach in the Subways! There’s even a Google Map with Bach-headed place markers:

Also, a sort of outdoor photobooth with a Bach wig. Totally sweet.

Now, why all this ballyhoo for one composer? Besides Mozart and his various eponymous festivals around the world, I can’t think of another composer so celebrated. Sadly, there’s no Satie-palooza or Schu-Mania. OK, there really needs to be a Schu-Mania (which, in his case, would be mania in both the modern and, dare I say, classical sense). To mix epochs, Bach appears to still be undergoing a Renaissance of sorts, as musicians outside the rigidly defined “classical” genre discover his genius and introduce it to disparate audiences through their own work. OK, disparate may be too stark: I’m unaware of Timberlake banging out something from The Well-Tempered Clavier in one of his little hats. I’m thinking in particular of the bluegrass/newgrass scene, a bottle that Sib1, the Regional Manager of Sibling Revelry, uncorked yesterday.

In 2010, filmmaker (from the English, “one who creates films and speaks about them in ways guaranteed to cause normal humans to roll their eyes as far back in their heads as possible.”) Michael Lawrence created a documentary called BACH & Friends, in which he interviewed a Bach-load of contemporary virtuosi in both the classical and non-classical worlds. The “wherefore art thou Bach” conversation could get quite technical and detailed. But that’s one reason why I like the following clips so much: they are very earthy descriptions of what moves these two geniuses I adore about Bach’s music. I love that Béla Fleck in particular seems to point to an ineffable quality in great music generally. Sometimes electron-microscopic inspection makes the magic disappear. But there is something in Bach that I think gets at some fundaments of music and what moves us about it, and I may try in subsequent posts to write about that as respectfully as possible. I also think that Bach’s genius is particularly apprehensible (I may have made that word up), whereas many classical composers’ works can be harder to grasp. But I can’t promise any of that commentary will be better than the below, particularly Thile’s “that clarity of intent” quip or Fleck’s apprehension of “inevitability”.



By the way, the piece Béla plays is on the Flecktones’ “Live Art” double album, second to last track.

To close, why is this post titled “Prell-Yood”? One of the things that my dear old fish and I have always loved about the inimitable Jeff Spurgeon is his masterful elocution. Accordingly, he pronounces “prelude” thusly, as opposed to the common “PRAY-lood.” May we all attain such lofty heights of the American vernacular.

Happy birthday, dear Johann!

Rejoice, readers dear, for today marks the 328th anniversary of Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth!  A self-taught virtuoso, prodigious organist, brilliant composer, Konzertmeister, Kapellmeister, embracer of lutes and herald of harpsichords (the list goes on and on), Bach’s masterful legacy is arguably the greatest of all classical composers.

Even if you do not consider yourself to be a listener of classical music, Bach has undoubtedly crossed your path (see my Sibling’s post “Sloganeering and Bach’s Butter” for proof).  Enjoy Halloween?  You’ve likely heard his Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Attended a wedding?  The fourth movement from the cantata Wachet auf (“Sleepers wake”) is a beloved processional.

My first exposure to Bach was, surprise surprise, during childhood.  I had a cassette tape about the life of Benjamin Franklin.  The story opened with a background of the “Allegro” of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.  The permanency of those early musical memories will always amaze me- to this day, whenever I hear that movement I instantly think about Benjamin Franklin.  And a key, and some lightning.  But I digress…

Lest I succumb to the temptation of a long and winding post, I will leave you to have a listen to two of my favorite Bach compositions:  firstly, the “Prelude” to Partita No. 3 for Violin (originally transcribed for the lute).  Here is insanely brilliant musician Chris Thile (our jaw-dropping admiration for and enjoyment of him and Punch Brothers knows no bounds) playing it on his mandolin.

On a strictly girly note, I love how disheveled he looks, as though he’s been up all night wrestling with the passages.

Secondly, here is classical guitar master Christopher Parkening performing “Sheep may safely graze”, which is the 4th movement of Bach’s Hunting Cantata.  If you are having the type of day that is begging for green pastures and still waters, indulge in these few moments and I guarantee you just that (figuratively speaking).

Finally, major kudos to WQXR as they commence their 10-day-straight run of the entirety of Bach’s 1,100 works!  They’re even running a Bach-o-meter!  Isn’t classical music divine?

Happy birthday, Johann!