Monday, November 29, 2010

TOS Review: A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

Our study of music has always been a bit scattershot around here. If there’s one area where my approach can be unflinchingly deemed “eclectic,” this is it. At one point, we fell headlong into traditional American folk songs. Later, there was the month-long dive into all things Tchaikovsky. We’ve used a cd story series to learn more about classical composers, and followed the rabbit trails of musical instruments into the modern day age of how electric guitars work. At the heart of all of this is our constant listen, listen, listen approach. There’s something being played every day--be it Scripture set to music, a concerto, or our local samba station.

All of this has been fun, but without much rhyme or reason. And most days I feel really good about that. After all, each of my kids--from teens to tots-- loves to listen to music. Jo is trying her hand at playing classical guitar, with good results thus far. Logan can name an astonishing array of classical pieces from snatches of music caught in line at the grocery store. Atticus likes the way music and words fit together. And both Oli and Mani will dance their little socks off to whatever happens to come out of our speakers.

I’ve dabbled with the idea of making a more deliberate effort towards music history, especially as Jo gets older and shows an interest in that area. But nothing seemed to stand out, especially when held up to my family’s needs. Anything I used needed to be useful for teaching a variety of ages, have a hands-on component, allow me the flexibility of selecting entire works (not focusing in two-minute samples of longer pieces), and have a storytelling element to it. It didn’t feel like a tall order, but until recently, nothing fit the bill.

Finally, I found A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers from Bright Ideas Press. It’s all that I wanted, and more ... and for only $29.95! An entire year’s study? For less than $30? That’s a winner in my book!

A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers is just that: a biographical journey through 26 well-known composers throughout musical history. Starting from the basic premise that music is from the Lord, each composer studied is studied in context of his time and faith. Musical eras are explained with the kind of depth that may intrigue older kids while flying right over the head of the youngers (this is what happened at my house), but the story sketches of individual composers are approachable and humanizing. Little details-- like nicknames, personal habits, etc.--bring these larger-than-life musical giants down to earth.

A huge index of listening suggestions and resource links make this guide customizable for both the musical novice and the maestro. It also allows busy moms just hoping to check off a box to pick one piece and focus on that, while giving the homeschooler hoping to get more the chance to pull in other books and pieces and truly create a mini-unit study out of each composer.

The hands-on element comes alive via an interesting note card concept. I opted to take a slightly different tack with these cards (I’ll admit it: if it doesn’t go in my kids’ binders, it’s likely to get lost) by making them a sort of notebook page. I also photocopied the included timeline, making one for each child and placing it in his or her binder alongside the maps that link the composers to their homes. A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers gives a sample three-day-a-week lesson plan in the introduction, and I was able to easily use that approach with my adapted materials. On the first day, we read the biography and filled in the notecard, which asks students to listen for names of pieces, recall birthdates, etc. Then we follow this up with listening to a specific piece. On the second day, we listen again, this time coloring the line showing the composer’s life in relation to others we’ve studied on the timeline and finding his home country on our maps. The third day is simply listening and talking about the pieces we’ve heard. All of this takes as little as twenty minutes, or as long as an hour ... depending on how interested the kids are!

We have not only enjoyed this study, but found it enriching our homeschool in all the ways I had hoped that a true music history education would. Studying the music of a period leads to so much more. Social, cultural, religious, and political more of the times come alive when placed alongside the works of the creative minds of the day. Bright Ideas Press has done an excellent job in crafting a book that opens this door to homeschoolers painlessly!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I've put together my own music curriculum for this year, but will be looking for something like this down the road.

If you were only teaching one child, at what age do you think this would be best?

Susan in the Boonies said...

Oh, crud.

I was supposed to teach music???

Dang it!!!


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mary grace said...

Angela, I'd pick this up in the late elementary grades. Fourth or fifth, maybe?