Music: The Counterpart to Art

Music: The Counterpart to Art

Last week, in her post Incorporating Art and Music into Your Homeschool Life, Susan reassured homeschoolers that the fine arts don’t have to be intimidating. She and I each encountered art on our own and in the process of homeschooling, for example, and developed an appreciation of it. Innate talent and specialized training, she pointed out, are less important than “exposure and familiarity with major cultural influences.”

The same is true of music. Even if you don’t know Albinoni from Weird Al, Beethoven from Beyonce, Chopin from Cher, or Debussy from dubstep, you can create a musical environment in your home that will enrich your curriculum and your lives.

Just as the key to art appreciation is simply to view it, the key to music appreciation is simply to hear it. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I don’t know a thing about art, but I know what I like.” That person may not think he has done anything significant, but in fact he has: he has viewed art and discovered a preference for a certain style, or technique, or subject. He didn’t have to enroll in an art institute to encounter art, look at it, be affected by it one way or another, and express a preference for what he likes.

Music is a bit different in that it is dynamic (music moves) as opposed to static (paintings and sculpture exist in a singular, fixed form). So one must invest a little more time in it before one can fairly assess it. But as you discover what appeals to your ear, you will quickly begin to recognize what you want to hear more of.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate music into your homeschool is to incorporate it into your home. Have music playing in the background as you start the day, as you move about the house, as you do lessons, as you have meals, as the day winds down. And you don’t have to spend money to do this. In fact, I don’t recommend buying music unless you have already determined that you like it. Instead, go to your library and “test drive” the music in their collection. Another idea is to turn on National Public Radio or your state public radio station during its musical broadcasts. (Their playlists are usually posted online, so you can find out what is playing at any given time.) You can even attend a concert via YouTube or DVD; for the latter, libraries can be excellent resources for recorded performances of orchestras, instrumentalists, choirs, concert singers, or operas. My kids became hooked on Beethoven in part because of a library video featuring conductor Michael Tilson Thomas teaching portions of Symphonies #5 and #7 to a master class of young musicians.

The idea is to start by finding opportunities to LISTEN and to KEEP LISTENING. The act of listening to good music is training not only your ear but your mind. I once took a humanities class in which, during the unit on music, we simply listened to Beethoven’s Symphony #5. The next session, we listened to it again. By the time we had done this four or five times, the music felt like an old friend with whom we were instinctively comfortable — and yet, at the same time, we began to hear patterns and themes that had not been obvious on the first listening. Just by repeated listening to one of Beethoven’s works, we learned what made that composition work, we learned some of what made Beethoven’s style distinctive, and we had the experience of reacting emotionally to the music. That, my friends, is music appreciation, and you can create the experience, too.

Each week here at THSL, I’ll do in the realm of music what Susan is doing in the realm of art — profile a figure and share a sample of his/her work. I’ll go in more or less chronological order, so that you’ll get a sense of the common features of each school of music (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc.) and also of how music has changed over time. I’ll also share some resources that you can use to find out more about the composers and their music. And I’ll show you how to build learning into your listening.

“Is this really teaching?” you may be wondering. Yes and no. This isn’t a curriculum per se. There are excellent curricula for instruction in music history and appreciation, and a gentle introduction here will lay the foundation for further study later. Susan’s posts on art and my posts on music fulfill the same function as reading to a little child to whet his appetite for reading himself. And we hope we can take the fear with which many parents view the fine arts and replace it with joy.

Lucy Watson

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