Great music deserves great celebration. A few years ago, UNESCO declared April 30 International Jazz Day, but in the United States, another genre received a month-long period of observance and celebration by decree of former President Bill Clinton. Since 1994, Classical Music Month has been observed during September, and it is an excellent time to promote music literacy and learning among children.
At Prodigies Music, we strongly believe that classical music and modern versions of chamber orchestra and instrumental compositions deserved to be known and celebrated by children. We tend to take classical music for granted as if it was just another genre; thanks to the work of music historians, we now look at classical music as a cultural progression that gradually evolved from ancient times to the Medieval period, and which exploded from the Renaissance until the 20th century. These days, classical music is still thriving thanks to composers such as Brian Eno, John Williams, Michael Giacchino, and Eddie Mora.
Even if we only take September to appreciate the musical works of great composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, there is a lot to learn about this timeless genre. Classical music appreciation can begin in the womb; we know this through scientific research conducted on the so-called Mozart Effect. How this exactly works has not been determined, but we know that it is not limited to Mozart or even classical music in general. Cognitive improvement from listening to sophisticated and harmonically complex music by jazz legend John Coltrane and by the electronic soundscapes of Sam Gellaitry.
One of the best ways to instill a love for classical music is to understand the principles of the Mozart Effect. If you did not play classical music for your baby before he or she was born, you still have an excellent opportunity this September by playing lullabies by Mozart, Brahms, and Chopin. For older children, here are other recommendations and ideas for special activities during classical music month.
You can learn more about ‘The Mozart Effect’ HERE!
Cartoons With Classical Music
There is a good reason why early Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons featured classical music: licensing and royalties. Film and television studios knew that they only had to pay for performance rights, thus avoiding the pain of having to shell out future and perpetual royalties. As a result of this financial advantage, children ended up with classical music scores driving the audio background of cartoons.
The following cartoons not only include classical music but also delve on themes related to performance:
* Rabbit of Seville: This classic Bugs Bunny cartoon makes fun of opera performance in general; it is based on Il Barbieri di Seviglia by Rossini, and it is pretty farcical on its own.
* Long Haired Hare: Similar to the above, the Barber of Seville once again serves as the background musical piece, but now with the addition of Bugs Bunny tormenting an opera singer when he disguises himself as the crazy-haired Polish conductor Leopold Stokowski.
* Music Land: This Disney cartoon short is an abstract antiwar allegory featuring anthropomorphic instruments. The gist is that a violin from the Land of Classic cannot consummate a romance with a saxophone from the Isle of Jazz because of political reasons. The romance turns dangerous when the two fictional countries almost go to war against each other, but music saves the day in the end. Long before the “Apocalypse Now” antiwar film featured Flight of the Valkyries as an action piece, producers at Disney Studios were using it.
* Pink, Plunk, Plink: In this Pink Panther cartoon from 1966, the main character repeatedly disrupts a symphonic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth. In the end, the Pink Panther takes over conducting duties so that the orchestra can perform Henry Mancini’s iconic jazzy theme. It should be noted that Mancini was heavily influenced by classical composers.
* Rhapsody In Rivets: In the 2017 action film “Baby Driver,” director Edgar Wright explained how a lifetime of suffering from tinnitus caused him to listen to music on headphones for many years; this habit left him with a syncopated view of life in which he observes actions that match music. Such syncope is at the heart of this Bugs Bunny cartoon, in which a New York City skyscraper is built to the tune of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Lizt. The musical piece was rearranged by the cartoon artists so that it would fit the construction theme beat by beat.
Since many of the cartoons above are pretty old, you should be able to find them on YouTube and other streaming video platforms.
Video Games that Emphasize Classical Music
Music historians agree that many video games are excellent starting points for new classical music listeners. Take just about any game within the Star Wars fictional universe, for example, and you will hear John Williams’ pieces from beginning to end. The same goes for video games in the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series, which are scored by Italian American composer Michael Giacchino. Following are some video games that go a bit further than the soundtrack when it comes to classical music:
* Eternal Sonata: This beautifully animated Japanese video game is based on the final days of Frédéric Chopin, who unfortunately suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, and severe tuberculosis that resulted in tragic hallucinations. In the game, Chopin and friends prevail in fighting against the monsters of his nightmares, and the entire score consists of waltzes, fugues, polkas, and other pieces by Chopin.
* Music Master Chopin: A more lighthearted and practical way to get into the works of Chopin is with this mobile game for Android and iOS. Basically, players are presented with a keyboard plus more than a dozen piano pieces composed by Chopin; the notes descend from the top of the screen to the keys, where players must match them up by touch. A warning from the game developer is that this game is not easy and was never meant to be because Chopin’s life was not easy to begin with.
* Fantasia Music Evolved: This is a Disney rhythm video game based on its hit films “Fantasia” and “Fantasia 2000,” which are mostly known for their classical music soundtracks. Essentially, turns players into sorcerer’s apprentice, and they are tasked with creating animated worlds from desolate landscapes, but they must do so with body motions captured by the Microsoft Kinect controller, which is a bit of a problem since Kinect has been discontinued for a few years. This game is only available for Xbox One video game consoles.
* Piano Master: Similar to the Chopin master app mentioned above, this Android and iOS games features classical pieces by famous composers such as Bach and Beethoven, but the difficulty can be adjusted for novice players. A tablet or a smartphone with screen larger than four inches is recommended.
Easy Classical Piano and Keyboard Performance
Younger piano learners usually begin with standards such as Happy Birthday and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, but there are a few classical pieces that are reasonably easy to play on keyboard instruments. In September, introduce your young music learners to pieces such as Prelude in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach and Fur Elise by Beethoven. These compositions have been arranged throughout centuries, but the underlying melodies that their composer wrote for the piano can be stripped down to a few easy notes.
Prelude in C Major needs to be played with both hands, but the notes can be hit with one hand before the other. Similar to the Prodigies Deskbells, you only need to play one note at a time, and this piece allows you to pull off something that sounds complex with relative ease.
Contrary to what many people believe, Fur Elise by Beethoven was not written for one of his many lovers, who often happened to be married. This piece was not even published during Beethoven’s lifetime; it was discovered by surviving relatives for decades after his death, and historians believe that the piece was written as a favor for a young girl taking piano lessons from a former Beethoven student. Whatever the historical case might be, the first part of Fur Elise is an bagatelle to learn and will impress any listener. The second part is trickier and requires hitting some of the black keys, but learners who are already proficient with Bach’s Prelude in C Major.