Sharing the joy of music with your children

Music making offers one of the richest opportunities to for children (and adults) to playfully discover, explore and develop the unique potentials of the human spirit.

Music, Song and Dance are some of the oldest cultural activities – and some of the most complex and sophisticated. They can engage, enrich and develop all aspects of our lives – the mind and the body, the emotions and rational understanding, conscious and intuitive communication with others all at the same time.

Making music is not “work” but play, mirroring and expressing the playfulness of life itself: of nature, but most importantly, of the the human spirit. In the animal world, there are no choirs, music ensembles or instruments, but every human baby is born with musical sensibility. Every culture on this earth has its creation story, and traditionally, people told this story by reenacting it, playing the roles of gods in traditional rituals. To tell this most important story of a culture’s life and pass it on to the next generation, all cultures used singing, dancing, music and the arts. Traditional creation rituals are the fountainhead of all of the Arts – and the Arts, if they have retained connection with that fountainhead, can connect us back to that source.

To pass on the musical heritage of one’s own culture to the next generation through collective music making offers a vast potential of deep cultural learning and creative contribution, development of mind, body, and cooperation and communication with one’s fellow humans, as well as deep enjoyment in the play and creative expression of the human spirit. By learning and making music, we can actively become part of a stream of human culture that comes all the way from to our prehistoric ancestors right down to us present humans. We can tap into this stream, start to explore and discover it more fully, to be transformed by this experience and then in turn transform that stream by enriching it with our own contributions.

And maybe most importantly, since making music involves coordinating perception, analytical and synthetic thinking, physical movement, and communication with other musicians and the audience, all in real time and in a very precisely and beautifully structured way, it is one of the best opportunities to develop the mind and mind-body-coordination in a holistic, integrated way. Studies consistently show that making music stimulates the mind and helps children to become better learners, because music engages all sides of the human mind and body – the intuitive as well as the rational side.

So how can we enable our children to discover and tap into this grand stream of the Arts and to become part of it in playful and creative ways (and thus, keep the stream flowing)?

Most children will develop a natural interest in music and dance just by experiencing their parents and those near to them joyfully engaging in musical activities. Just like speaking comes naturally to a child just by experiencing their loved ones speaking, then imitating and exploring, interest in music will come naturally if parents have integrated music making as an important activity into their daily lives and the lives of their communities, and play music with a sense of curiosity and playfulness.

That doesn’t mean playing any instrument professionally! It can mean just singing songs or humming melodies during everyday activities.

There are many was to take part in and introduce children to musical culture and sub-cultures, but simply singing the songs you know and love to your children, and if they like, with them, is an invaluable contribution to the development of their mind and spirit. The voice is the first and most natural instrument, and a song connects language, rhyme, rhythm and music to form a memorable and enjoyable way of telling a story.

A mother who sings songs she enjoys singing to her little children and encourages them to sing along can easily spark curiosity in music in her children. Sleep Songs, Children’s Songs, Christmas Songs, traditional Songs or even popular songs are all great. Kids will easily relate and become interested when their parents are in a good mood and express this by singing, humming or whistling along when listening to an inspiring tune on the radio at home, or when hearing live music at a social occasion, such as a festival or marriage.

It is a good idea to sourround yourself with music at home by listening often to music that you love and enjoy listening to, even if you are doing other things, such as cleaning, eating, writing a letter, or playing with your children.

Little children who feel her mother enjoys and values singing and dancing will often spontaneously try to imitate and experiment with little melodies and lyrics, and should be encouraged in doing so – but not pressed to do it. If later there are possibilities to sing in a school or church choir and a child expresses interest in trying that, it should by all means be encouraged and supported. To give your child the opportunity to develop such interests, try to see a choir at live concert. The voice is the most direct and ancient musical instrument – when singing, you can feel musical vibrations directly produced by your body.

If a child expresses interest in a specific instrument, try to go to concerts where that instrument is part of the ensemble or even featured instrument, so your child has a chance to find out more about that instrument and maybe even meet the musician playing it.

If you happen to sing in a choir, play in a small ensemble, a band or an orchestra, take your child to the rehearsals so she can hear and see what you are doing there, and of course also to the concerts! If you know some of the musicians, speak with them about their love of music, and maybe ask them to play something on their instrument so you child can not only listen, but also watch closely.

Of course, it is great also to see and hear other ensembles and orchestras play live music of any kind – it is a good idea to listen to a broad variety of styles of music, from traditionals to classical music to the more popular and “modern” styles.

Irina asked me to give a play-list also, but I hesitate to give a specific list because such a list would be highly personal. I believe that much more than specific pieces of music, it is important that parents share the music they really love and believe in with their children. If a mother puts her child in front of the TV and shows her some kind of concert, animated kids movie or whatever, just to get her child out of the way and keep it busy and quiet while the child really wants to play and communicate with her mother, chances are that it will feel “music is just something mom uses to get me quiet and out of her way so she can do her own things for herself while I really need her”, and will come to experience music as an excuse of her mom to be able to do other things. Children are very sensitive and smart and sense anything that is going on – especially, what their parents want and what they love. To them, it’s not “about the music” — it’s about the relationship with mom!

I will gladly share some music that I myself really love to listen to and to share with others, including children – but your list of music might look entirely different, and that is only natural and should be so!

I particularly love to listen to the music of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Lenny Bernstein, Robben Ford, and Frank Zappa – just to name a few.

Some great well-known pieces that are nice introductions for children to classical music and the sound of an orchestra and also fun to listen to for adults, of course, include Sergej Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” or Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals”. Most Kids love to connect music with little stories as well as with moving images, and there are a number of great animated movies (cartoons) with great music. Fantasia, produced by Walt Disney in the 40’s, features classic pieces by classical composers with little animated stories told without words – just music and animated film. I am sure there are russian equivalents to that! Many kids love cartoon music, such as in “Tom and Jerry”, and some children’s programs on TV feature such music.

Taking glimpses at musical traditions of other cultures of the earth to see what they have in common and how they can enrich each other through their differences. Often, musicians from different parts of the world are able to improvise music together spontaneously even though they do not speak each other’s languages. The language of rhythm, melody and basic harmony has a universal “grammar” and many similar “words” that offer potential for spontaneous understanding and cooperation, and collective exploration.

So if you have the chance to see and hear traditional ensembles from other cultures, no matter if it is an indian sitar and tabla player, japanese kodo drummers or a brazilian escola de samba, an american jazz trio or tyrolian yodelers, by all means listen – listen with your child for familiar patterns, and also for characteristic patterns of that musical culture that sound new or strange to what your ears are used to, and try to imitate some patterns by trying to remember and to sing or hum them, and maybe add some body percussion.

If you recognize a particular interest or talent in your child, it is good to support and nurture its interest by going to concerts and festivals with your child, where it has a chance to see music made and played live. Formal education on an instrument should not begin too early unless a child expresses the wish himself. A good age may be around 7 years or first or second grade in school, when a first familiarity with reading and writing language has been developed.

Some kids will lean towards a particular instrument or kind of instrument: some will love the sound of a piano with its crackling, percussive sounds and many tones played at once, others will be fascinated how a woodwind instrument “speaks”, maybe an oboe, clarinet or saxophone – and some intrigued by the power of a brass instrument – the high power of a trumpet, the low sounds of a trombone or the mellow qualities of a french horn. Some kids will be fascinated with drums, rhythm and beating on things. It is good to give kids a chance to explore a little bit the instrument they gravitate towards, not forcing too early a decision on which one to specialize. If they show interest in singing and voice, that should be encouraged by all means and possibilities to sing in a choir should be sought!

If you can, try to find a teacher who you child relates well to, and who can teach not only instrumental technique on whatever instrument your kid has chosen, but can also pass on some knowledge about harmony, theory, composition and, if possible, improvisation. In the classical world, musicians all too often have been reduced to automatons just reproducing music the “great classical composers” wrote – and becoming creative themselves as musicians has been neglected. But do you know of anyone who can speak – but only texts written by other people that were handed by them? Who cannot speak freely with another human being unless he is given a written text beforehand? That would be absurd – yet, it has become commonplace in classical european music culture and is considered not only “normal”, but “desirable”!

Enjoy sharing and exploring the world of music with your children – often they are just as much your teacher as you are theirs. Respect your child’s preferences and interests and support and nurture them as best as you can.

Film music – animation – fantasia

If you listen to music at home in your free time, you may remember specific pieces that you heard as a child.

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf

Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals

Stravinsky: Petrouchka

Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts

For example, I particularly like the piano, because it is an instrument that is percussive and has the potential for very rhythmic, drum-like playing, but also the potential for melody and harmony. So I will give a list of music by pianists I particularly love and enjoy listening to and learning from. But this is entirely personal and just intended as an example for you to make up your own list from your own preferences and personal biography!

Chick Corea: Children’s Songs

Keith Jarrett: The Melody, the Night with You

Bill Evans: Danny Boy

A great pianist and singer who combines the classical tradition with mugham, a traditional oriental style of improvisation, and jazz, is Aziza Mustafa Zadeh from Azerbaidjan (she lives in germany now). Her mother was an opera singer, and her father was Azerbaidjan’s most well known jazz pianist! Her music is truly amazing in spirit and originality, and I love her playing! Check out her “Vagif’s Prelude” – and her “Vagif” – two songs she wrote for her dad.

My teacher Dick Grove … great eartraining teacher, and loved the piano just like I do!

Framed – Martin Schmitt

If your kid loves rock, funk and jazz … listen to Dick’s son Dana play guitar!!!!! Will blow your mind!

Nikolai Kapustin:

[ So much in modern life tends to pull us away from that spiritual source of all human life and culture: the need to “make a living” by “making money” (instead of simply living), politics (instead of simply cooperating for mutual benefit), the need “to be better than the others” (instead of simply becoming the best you can be), the propaganda of advertising and the media (instead of simple, straightforward and honest talk), etc. Modern life can sometimes be quite alienating – to put it mildly! But if we have a means to spiritually recharge ourselves by re-connecting to the springquell of all life that we all come from through the means of art, all the craze, haze and the dehumanized mess and stress of modern life becomes a little easier to bear because it becomes small and transitory compared with the beauty and greatness of great art and music. Practicing the art of music empowers us to create a spiritual comfort zone where we can be and feel “real” instead of feeling and acting fake.

Share a personal story … hearing Aziza: Vagif for the first time, hearing Weckl and Corea and Pattituci live, Tower of Power in Concert, Airto Moreira live at Samba Night …


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