Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

How To Get and Keep Kids Interested In Concert Music – Part Two

An extremely close approximation of my seventh grade music appreciation teacher

An extremely close approximation of my seventh grade music appreciation teacher

In my previous entry I promised to hold forth on a subject of concern to many (if not most) of the visitors to this page, and that is how to get (and keep) our kids interested in concert music. Rather than dive right into the subject, I have been seized by the need to set the stage, to offer an “overture” in preparation of what (I hope) will be an extended discussion.

Bear with me; we have as much time to discuss this stuff as we want.

It has become something of a national pastime in the United States to bemoan the state of music education in the public schools. I regret, in particular, the demise of band and choral programs, programs that didn’t just teach kids how to play instruments and sing but, much more important, how to contribute (musically) to a larger community, the whole a thousand times greater than the sum of its parts.

Having said that, I do not miss – not for a moment – the sorts of “music appreciation” classes I was subjected to as a child. If my experience in the public schools of Willingboro, New Jersey in the 1960’s is in any way representative – and I suspect it was – then I would suggest in-class music appreciation did more harm than good. These sessions were inevitably taught by a well-meaning “specialist” who came in for forty-five minutes every couple of weeks, specialists for whom we – the students – reserved our most contemptuous behavior. The only enduring memory I have of these sessions (and remember, I LIKED music) goes back to sixth or seventh grade when, every time the nice lady attempting to teach us something turned her back, I shot a spit ball at her bee-hive do through a BIC pen with its innards pulled out. In this I was not alone; I would estimate that roughly 50% of the students (whatever was the percentage of males in the class) did the same thing. The fact that these teachers did not kill us where we sat was a testament to their essential goodness and sense of duty; they were on a mission to enlighten the barbarians or die trying. God knows what they found in their hair at the end of the day.

I bless them all and belatedly beg their forgiveness.

But (finally!) to the point. No matter what the state of music education in the schools is today; no matter how much money PTAs manage to raise and contribute to after school music programs; no matter what sort of classroom outreach is provided by the professional musical community, the ultimate responsibility for inculcating a respect for a wide range of music falls (as responsibility always falls) on parents.

There are people in my very own household who do not agree with me on this, and while I respect their opinions (well, sort of), I believe myself to be absolutely correct. There’s an old adage that says “parents: if you want your child to read, then read to them and let them see you reading to yourself”. The musical corollary says “parents: if you want your child to appreciate a wide variety of music, then play it for them and let them hear it while you play it for yourselves.”

So: parents, it’s up to us. I will begin putting forth my suggestions tomorrow and again, I hope that readers will contribute as well.