We are about to lose it. Even with all of our best intentions our house has been overrun with dozens of children’s videos for preschoolers. It seems like most of them are episodes of over-acting child performers poorly singing bad arrangements of what could best be called “contemporary children’s tunes.” I am getting insomnia, as the last thing I hear at night is either “Silly Willy Land” or “Brush Your Teeth” (Neither are conductive to restful sleep). Both my husband and I are going a little kooky, as we give in yet again to our daughter’s wails for the Silly People Tunes (and that is one of the better “modern collections.”)
Last evening my husband decided to take matters into his own hands. Instead of popping in the “Silly Kid Songs” again he explained to our daughter that we were going to take turns watching videos. Daddy’s was first, then Eleanor’s. Our toddler was not that thrilled, but she went along with it. Dan began with popping in a DVD of Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi. What was “Daddy’s video” soon turned into “Eleanor’s video” too as my husband took advantage of the visual imagery to entice her into a new music experience. She flew in the sky as Glass’s arpeggiated riffs flew through the flutes. The music became scary as the dark smoke billows mingled with the rumbling bass lines. After thirty minutes both father and daughter were saner, each deriving a satisfaction from the DVD in a way none of us anticipated.
So, it is one thing for two classically trained composers to introduce Philip Glass into their child’s listening environment. But, what about the millions of other kids who are enmeshed in today’s popular culture? How can we recontextualize their listening experiences so that they are not mind numbing, but mind building?
Music teachers like Evan Tobias (mentioned in past Chatters) are doing this with the television show American Idol. Say what you will but, like it or not, millions of American kids and their families watch it religiously every week. Students know the names of the contestants better than the names of American presidents. Evan and others educators like him are taking this phenomenon and recontexualizing it in the music classroom, using it to help students become discerning listeners. Performances on the show are watched and discussed, focusing not on the contestants’ personalities, but on aspects of the performances. Song structures, from melodies to orchestration, are scrutinized. Through the use of one pop culture phenomenon kids are learning musicianship skills that enable them not only to listen, but to analyze music, regardless of its style.
So, perhaps there is some hope. There is now a Disney kids show where preschoolers go on an adventures to find “masterworks” in music, art, and architecture. Eleanor loves this program, in which the rocket ship gets its energy by the kids clapping and singing accelerandos and crescendos. She’s learning about Monet and Vivaldi. But, then again, it is followed by another insipid show of children’s entertainment, with poorly trained singers belting out cheap imitations of rock songs, designed for tots.