The Benefits of Music Study

When I was part of a choir, I remember every day at practice, the choir director would come in and say, “Thank You, God, for the gift of music.” That’s how he started every rehearsal. And music is a gift. It’s a huge gift, and we can incorporate that gift in our school and give our children that gift as well with Charlotte Mason’s wonderful methods. We want to talk about and explore how music is a gift in our homeschools. Joining me today is my friend and coworker Christy Hissong.

Sonya: Christy, so good to have you back.

Christy: Thank you. 

Sonya: We’re talking about music today, and I know music has a big place in your heart, as it does in mine. Just give us some ideas of how music has played a role in your homeschool. I know that’s a huge topic. Can you whittle it down a little bit?

Christy: Well, religious and cultural music builds family intimacy and community, and it builds your faith. We have always tried to enjoy as much live music as we could to engage more of our senses and to be able to participate in it ourselves instead of just being an observer.

Sonya: Give me some examples of that. Like, did you sing “The Messiah”?

Christy: Yes.

Sonya: You would go to some of those sing-alongs?

Christy: Yes. We’re very blessed; our church has many opportunities for music; instrumental as well as vocal. We’ve always been very much involved in that at church. But where we live in northeast Tennessee, a huge cultural thing is the mountain music and bluegrass. So, there have been many opportunities from people busking on the street corners to a place called The Carter Fold, which is June Carter Cash’s family place. And it started out years ago with just everyone gathering on their front porch at night. And now every Friday and Saturday night you can go out and listen to bluegrass music and dance and clap and have a hot dog. And it’s just a great community thing. It has created community, and most people in our area are really drawn to that. It gives us a common bond.

Sonya: Yes, and I would think that there would be other regional music opportunities in other corners of the world.

Christy: Oh, absolutely. Every corner of the world.

Sonya: Yeah, if you just look for them. I think that might be some of the key: we don’t take the time to look for them. We think about what field trips we can do, right? But we may not think about how we can bring the music aspect in regularly.

Christy: Right, and often your public radio station is a great place to call. Or go to their website. They often have community events coming up.

Sonya: Oh, good idea. Good tip. I know Charlotte included music in her homeschools and her regular school programs, but she didn’t start there, right? She didn’t have music right from the get-go. It took someone else to pique her interest. Can you tell a little bit about that?

Christy: Well, her name was Mrs. Howard Glover, and evidently she decided, as she was homeschooling her own daughter, to play on the piano some of the most beautiful pieces that were her favorites and dear to her heart. And her daughter just listened; that was it. She played; her daughter listened. It was just exposure. So somehow Charlotte Mason heard about Mrs. Glover and what she was doing in her own homeschool and realized that all children could benefit from listening and being exposed to beautiful music well-performed and well-crafted. She asked Mrs. Glover to come up with a program, a schedule of songs to be listened to and enjoyed every term in the PNEU schools as well.

All children can benefit from listening and being exposed to beautiful music well-performed and well-crafted.

Sonya: What would you say are some of the benefits or advantages of listening to music? Besides the cultural ties and the family ties, are there any other benefits to it?

Christy: Now we know that it primes the brain for learning and develops gross and fine motor skills. Simple songs and back-and-forth games with clapping, anything that you can engage the body with, build brain and body coordination, and it helps the different regions of the brain to communicate with one another even better. 

Sonya: That’s a fascinating aspect of it I hadn’t thought of before, which makes me think about how wise Charlotte was to use music between other subjects. We talk about using different parts of the brain as you go in sequence during your day, but putting in that music break is almost, as you said, it’s priming them. It’s not just giving them something different, it’s priming them for the next one. So let’s talk specifically about music study or composer study that we try to incorporate in our school times. Sometimes we get the question, “Why should we focus on music of old, dead people?” And what would be your answer to that?

Christy: It doesn’t have to be all old, dead people. There are modern composers that are out there who are very worthy of our time. Right now, we’re doing Alma Deutscher. She’s a British homeschooler, 19 years old, and she was a child prodigy. By the time she was 10 years old, she was writing operas and symphonies, and she’s an amazingly gifted young woman. She’s only 19 now, and you can hear her music widely on YouTube.

Sonya: Oh, I know when my kids were growing up, they went through a John Williams phase because they would like to make their own movies. They were very interested in soundtracks, and they were drawn to John Williams’s music, not just because it was soundtracks, but because it was well-written music. Their tastes had been primed, as it were, cultivated, through listening to good music all along. So they could recognize it in a modern composer just as you recognize it in this young woman’s work.

There are modern composers that are out there who are very worthy of our time.

Christy: Musical soundtracks are a great way to be introduced to different composers because the composers are real people who compose those pieces. They’re alive, and that’s beautiful music. It tells a story.

Sonya: It conveys an idea even without words. That’s one thing that really hit me recently. Rebekah Carlson, who writes a lot of our music study curriculum, mentioned that to me. And it really struck me that we talk about conveying ideas, but music often does it without words. With the composer study you do have the oratorios and the operas and things that have words. But it can also, with orchestral music, convey so many ideas without words. So, as we wrap up, what are some ways that you encouraged your son to respond to the music, to get involved with it as he listened to it?

Christy: Our home was always full of music, whether it was singing, or I always had—usually our composer who we were studying at that time—playing in the background, no matter what we were doing. So he was exposed to it in that way, whether he wanted to be or not. (laughs) Thankfully, he really enjoyed it and has latched on to several composers over his young life that he just really enjoys and recommends to everyone. Bach is his all-time favorite. 

Sonya: And he’s 21 now.

Christy: He is.

Sonya: Not Bach, but your son. Let’s be specific here. (laughs)

Christy: Yes, he is. There are so many. One way that I roped him in was so many composers wrote story songs. I’m thinking of Tchaikovsky and “Peter and the Wolf” or Grieg and “The Peer Gynt Suite.” These are stories that are told in music, but you can also read the story to him, and you can hear the wolf prowling, and you can hear the goblins in “In the Hall of the Mountain Kings,” you can hear them, and they’re echoing off the walls of the cave. So just search and try to find composer pieces that are linked with stories. That’s a great way to get some buy-in early on.

Sonya: Yes, and I assume you would let him move to the music? In a way that it struck him? whatever the music called for?

Christy: Oh, absolutely, and not just him. I’d get into the act and so would the dog!

Sonya: And the dog too! Okay, that’s great. And I’ve heard about drawing a picture that the music makes you think of, or just the colors that it reminds you of, something like that.

With my kids, you could get a silk scarf and let them move. We had different colored silk scarves that they could move to the music as well. So many ways to get, as you said, many senses involved and knowing that behind it all, it’s doing its work in your child’s brain. It’s a win-win. 

Christy: It’s painless.

Sonya: Yes. All right, so how would you encourage somebody who hasn’t yet dipped their toe in music study or composer study? They’ve been kind of holding off. It’s like, “I don’t know about that.” How would you encourage them?

Christy: Well, there are so many resources and books out there now. Simply Charlotte Mason’s composer books are one way. But I would recommend that you set aside a specific time in your school day just to listen to music, to sit and listen, or to dance and listen, or act it out with blocks, whatever you want to do, or draw, paint. But there’s a specific time where it’s dedicated to that. It’s not just background music, but you’re listening to it and talking about it. “What does that make you think of?” Or, “I love the part where this happens,” or, “Did you hear that little trill? It happened three or four times in that piece.” It’s really important to make it a priority so that there’s just great exposure and an intimate knowledge, a connection with your spirit and the composer.

Sonya: Wonderful. Thanks so much.

Music Study Made SImple

Music Study with the Masters: Debussy

Music Study with the Masters makes it simple for you to bring the wonderful benefits of music study to your home school—even if you don’t know anything about classical music!

Each easy-to-use kit provides you with a living composer biography, two full-length albums of the composer’s music, and leading thoughts to prompt discussion for eight pieces. A suggested schedule helps you enjoy the music with your whole family throughout 12-week term.

Start enjoying classical music with your students with Music Study with the Masters!

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