Sunday, August 11, 2013

Music at the Feast and the Beauty of Attaining Part II

Why do we listen to classical music? Here's what one blogger had to say:

"Frankly, I do not care if listening to Mozart does make me or my kids smarter. It is an added benefit if it does, I suppose, but I listen to music because it is simply beautiful—and I hold, the highest form of beauty—and gives me great pleasure. This is sufficient in itself." from The Imaginative Conservative

We've talked a lot here at The Winding Ascent about the importance of beauty, and we'll probably talk about it even more as time goes on. I truly believe God created this world for us, gardens, art, and music in particular, as an extension and an expression of Himself, of His glory, of His beauty. 

Here's what Kristina Zlatareva said in her article "Music -- the Gateway to Eternity":

A K-8 school, St. Anne consists of more than 200 students from which the majority come from low-income families, who cannot afford to make art their children’s priority. ... I found out that for them sitting in a classroom with 8-10 other kids for 1-hour music sessions deprives them of individual attention which is needed to unlock their talent and potential. ...

Witnessing this, I decided to organize an informal event, where the children do not have to feel obliged to sit quietly and listen to music which they cannot understand, but where they can have their voices heard and opinions valued. Together with three of my musician friends, I performed a concert, including pieces for violin, piano and cello from different classical periods.
Kristina AL Photo 2
Before each performance we talked about the different composers and history of every piece and at the end we opened a discussion, where the students had the opportunity to share their individual comments—what they liked or disliked about the music, how it made them feel or what it made them think about. Lupita, a violin student, shared her honest opinion about the beginning of Chopin’s Prelude No. 15, Op. 28: “It’s like I could see a million bubbles floating in the sky. However, I liked it only until the loud part started in the middle. It should have been quieter all the way through, don’t you think?” How funny, I thought, that Chopin gave title to the Prelude “Raindrop” and Lupita imagined flying bubbles; and it was not coincidental, because music inspired a connection between a child’s imagination and an adult’s artistic vision. Despite the different eras they lived in and the differences in age and knowledge, I think Lupita felt the music the same way Chopin did. So, here is a proof that art is timeless—be it a painting, a poem or a musical piece, it carries an eternal message that never alters throughout the ages.

She set the scene before they began and had the students narrate at the end. It sounds like Kristina is a Charlotte Mason educator!

Now let's dig into Miss Mason's work again and with beauty in mind talk some more about her vision for music study. This is from vol 6, pp 217-218 (many thanks to Ambleside Online for putting these valuable resources online, to Leslie Laurio for paraphrasing them for us, and to Karen Andreola for publishing the volumes in book form):

"With Musical Appreciation the case is different; and we cannot do better than quote from an address made by Mrs. Howard Glover at the Ambleside Conference of the Parents' Union, 1922:––

'Musical Appreciation––which is so much before the eye at the present moment––originated in the P.N.E.U. about twenty-five years ago. At that time I was playing to my little child much of the best music in which I was interested, and Miss Mason happened to hear of what I was doing. She realised that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well. She asked me to write an article In the Review on the result of my observations, and to make a programme of music each term which might be played to the children. From that day to this, at the beginning of every term a programme has appeared; thus began a movement which was to spread far and wide.

'Musical Appreciation, of course, has nothing to do with playing the piano. It used to be thought that 'learning music' must mean this, and it was supposed that children who had no talent for playing were unmusical and would not like concerts. But Musical Appreciation had no more to do with playing an instrument than acting had to do with an appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with enjoyment of pictures. I think that all children should take Musical Appreciation and not only the musical ones, for it has been proved that only three per cent of children are what is called 'tone-deaf'; and if they are taken at an early age it is astonishing how children who appear to be without ear, develop it and are able to enjoy listening to music with understanding.' "

"She realised that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well."

Did you get that?

Miss Mason put the receiving of great joy ahead of all else when it came to music appreciation. That's really the heart of the matter, isn't it? One has only to peruse Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience site to understand the importance of joy. And let's face it -- modern society is not terribly concerned with joy. Or beauty. Or anything uplifting and positive. We're seeing world news practically as it happens, and none of it is good. A growing number of us, adults and children alike, are on antidepressant therapy. And yet, look outside your window right now. What do you see? Hopefully a flower. Maybe a blooming rosebush or a plum tree like I do. Is there a butterfly hovering around a milkweed bush? A raindrop resting on a flower petal? Or do you see concrete and hear traffic noise and jets overhead? That's okay, too, because you are resting right where the Father has you. But the joy. Oh, the joy. Where has it fled? I sometimes wonder if the Holy Spirit has hidden himself from view because we have insulted Him by replacing His glory and beauty with ipods, Facebook, traffic jams, Walmart, and concrete. May that never be so! May we welcome the King of Glory, the Creator of the Universe, with open arms and behold the beauty of His holiness. And where might that be found?

Here. Behold, God the Lord from Mendelssohn's Elijah

And here. Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, opus 64 (Hilary Hahn)

And here. In this one, you can listen to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave) while watching video of someone's tour of the lower Hebrides (the islands of Mull, Iona, and Staffa off Scotland). It's lovely. And you can hear the waves crashing as Mendelssohn's music plays.

At the end of July (1829), with the concert season over, he (Mendelssohn) left with his friend Karl Klingemann for Edinburgh, where he conceived the Scottish Symphony that he would finish a dozen years later. A week later, on the island of Mull in the Inner Hebrides west of the Scottish mainland, he wrote in a letter home to Berlin:

“In order to make you realize how extraordinarily the Hebrides have affected me, the following came into my head there.”

The “following” was extraordinary indeed: 21 bars in piano score, with orchestration indicated, of what we now know as the opening of The Hebrides. The next day, he and Klingemann took a steamer to the tiny island of Staffa to see one of Europe’s great tourist attractions, Fingal’s Cave, a sort of Hibernian Carlsbad Caverns. According to Klingmann, the trip made Mendelssohn seasick, and judging from the absence of any mention of it in Mendelssohn’s otherwise detailed travel notebook, the cave made far less of an impression on him than other scenery.

As spontaneous a stroke of genius as that opening theme is, the Overture did not come easily. He apparently “finished” at least two versions, and late as 1832 he was still wrestling with it, writing to his sister that it did not savor enough of “oil and seagulls and dead fish.” (from Henry Posner)

And last but never, EVER least when it comes to Mendelssohn -- my absolute favorite from his Elijah, titled If With All Your Hearts.

If with all your hearts ye truly seek me,
ye shall ever surely find Me,
thus saith our God.
Oh, that I knew where I might find Him
that I might even come before His presence.

You may be wondering why that last song is so heart-wrenching for me, and yes, I sat here and cried while listening to it as I do each and every time. Not only did I sing the Elijah back in college at SMU in Dallas (conducted by our wonderful choral director and famed arranger and composer, Lloyd Pfautch). I also remember this song for other reasons. My parents divorced when I was 13, and it was a very messy thing with lots of heartache and hard feelings on all sides, but primarily on my mother's. My dad left her to marry her best friend. It happens. I knew that even as a world-weary young teen. But this time it had happened to MY family. And I was a rather sensitive child, so I lost my way for a season. My mother had recently become a born-again christian, and there is a memory indelibly etched in my mind -- of my mother, in her private quiet time with the Lord, sitting in the dim master bedroom with her autoharp in her arms, strumming quietly and singing mournfully with tears streaming down her cheeks, If With All Your Hearts.

If you want to know what "with all your hearts" looks like, I submit to you my grieving, heartbroken, devastated mom. What an example of faith amid horrible circumstances she was for the shy, gawky teenaged me. I'll never forget that song. That moment. The Elijah. Or Mendelssohn.

Moments of great joy and deep sorrow sting the brain, creating connections that don't disappear over time. This is the power of music to impact a child's life.

Speaking of life and its passion and pain, here's Luciano Pavarotti as Mario Cavaradossi singing as he awaits execution in the opera Tosca. I give you E Lucevan le Stelle.

The Stars Were Shimmering

The stars seemed to shimmer
The sweet scents of the garden,
The creaking gate seemed to whisper,
And a footstep skimmed over the sand.
Then she came in, so fragrant,
And fell into my arms!
Oh! sweet kisses, oh, languorous caresses,
While I, trembling, was searching
For her features, concealed by her mantle.
My dream of love faded away, for good!
Everything's gone now.
I'm dying hopeless, desperate!
And never before have I loved life like this!
And never before have I loved life like this!

In 2004, our children participated in the Choir School at St. Peter's, an episcopal church in uptown Charlotte. Their choir was asked to perform as choirboys in the opera Tosca with Opera Carolina. Little did we realize the impact this participation was going to have on their love of opera and music -- although I did have my suspicions when I caught my little choirboy Hannah crouching in the hallway beneath the speaker while the other kids were in the green room playing cards.  
Hannah Hoyt, 2004, Tosca

She was leaning against the wall in full costume, with her boy's wig and gray knickers on, crying uncontrollably, listening to Mario sing his last song, E Lucevan le Stelle. The love affair had begun. And this year she's a senior vocal performance major at Berklee College of Music, where she's president of the Opera Club.

Here are a few more pics of the kids from their Opera Carolina days. I can't emphasize enough the beauty and connection a child receives by performing music rather than watching it or listening to it online or on the radio. I hope you'll try getting your students into a choir program or just volunteer to be a supernumerary (like a movie extra but in opera) with a local opera company. The opportunities may be sparse if you live in a rural area, but try a local church choir or a community choir. You never know what beautiful experiences are right around the next bend in the road until you take that first step. 

Hilary Hoyt, 2004, Tosca

The power of music. To jar us. To wound us. To thrill us. To heal us. There is glorious music in Heaven. And I know the foretaste we've been given here on earth is only a tiny glimpse of the glory to come.


CM Blog Carnival on Composer Study

Music Downloads from the Isabella Gardner Museum
Boston Symphony
New York Philharmonic
Music Memory
DSO Lesson Plan Database
DSO Kids Listening by Composer
Kids Classical Channel
Kids Classical for Parents
Classics for Kids
From the Top

Drew Hoyt (right front), 2004, Tosca
from left: Hannah (with Cosette), Steve, and Jesse in CPCC's La Boheme (Yes, Jesse!)


  1. Did the girls get their hair cut for Tosca?

    I have a lovely music moment to share! My brother-in-law is from Bonn, Germany, and they are very proud of their heritage: it is the home of Gummi-Bears and the home of Beethoven. So, his mother sent some Gummi-Bears in the likeness of Beethoven's head for the new school. My mother is German and she told me that the Ode to Joy is now the German national anthem. So, she began to sing it in German. She did not realize that I had sung in the Ninth symphony chorus twice and I still have it memorized. So, I joined in and we sang it together in German. She was so excited!

    Isn't wonderful to have cherished memories of our mothers teaching us the beauty of classical music?

  2. That's such an awesome memory! The girls were wearing wigs for Tosca. They both had very long hair! They also performed in The Pearl Fishers the next year and had another fantastic experience. I should dig out those pics, too, and post them. They had to wear full body dark makeup for that one!