Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers published by Bright Ideas Press is comprised of 32 weekly lesson covering the history of classical music from the Middle Ages through Present Time.  

photo courtesy of Timberdoodle

This three hundred twenty-nine page program begins with an introduction covering the why, how, and when of using this program. After reading the introduction which includes a schedule for using the program, clear instructions on how to use each component of the program, and a brief discussion on how composers were chosen for inclusion in this program, one will have covered the basics for getting started teaching their young scholars about classical composers.  

Next up are the student pages divided into the following six periods of music:

Ancient Music to Music in the Middle Ages,
Music in the Renaissance,
The Baroque Period,
The Classical Period,
The Romantic Period, and
The Contemporary Period.

Each period is further broken down into several lessons with the exception of Ancient Music to Music in the Middle Ages and Music in the Renaissance.   These periods of music cover the general history of the music in that era in one lesson. Starting in The Baroque Period, specific composers are covered after an introductory lesson on the musical period.  Each lesson includes three to four pages of reading followed by two to three pages of fill-in-the-blank worksheets.   

Following the Student Pages, the appendix, the meat of the program, includes the following:

Composer Info Cards,
Composer Portraits,
Lesson by lesson listening suggestions,
Map worksheets,
Game suggestions,
Game Forms,
Coloring pages,
Folder Book Instruction,
Composers Resource List listing books to learn more about each composer,
Composers Resource list listing CDs, DVDs, and Coloring books to further explore the composers and their music,
List of Interactive Websites,
Answer Keys to Worksheets,
Glossary of Musical Terms,
Timeline Key, and a
Certificate of Completion.  

The Composer Info Cards and Composer Portraits work together to create a memory type card to be used in games and to enable the student to easily review information about each composer.

front side of Composer Card

Back side of Composer Card

Listening is an important part of any music appreciation course;  the music for this course is supplied through the Lesson by Lesson Listening Suggestions which include discussion questions as well as specific youtube video suggestions.

The Comparative Timeline helps to make connections not only between the times composers lived , but also between the friendships and influences composers shared with each other.  The Map Worksheets continue the idea of relationships by showing which composers shared citizenship and locality.

Game suggestions and game forms include all you need to put together five games to help students remember who the composers are, when they lived, facts about their lives, as well as what they composed.  

A coloring page is included for each composer studied.

The folder book instruction page includes a brief bit of instruction on making a simplified version of a lap book organizing the information found in this study.  

Many additional resources are listed in the Composers Resource Lists to encourage further exploration of the composers and their music through books, CDs, DVDs, and interactive websites.

For the busy parent answer keys for the worksheets and timeline make correcting work easy, and the glossary of musical terms helps both students and parents understand the musical terms used throughout the student lessons.

There is a lot to like in this program and a few things that bothered me.

I love the concept of breaking the information up into chronological time periods.   Not having the expertise required to pull something together for music appreciation, I loved all the resources listed in the appendix.

The Music Listening Suggestions are great.   Boring, stuffy,and highbrow could describe a lot of classical music selections, but the youtube video suggestions were not any of those.   Young children, actors dressed in period costumes, or movie clips enliven many of  the videos.    Of course the nature of the Internet makes the list fluid with videos changing hour by hour, but it was easy to search for replacement clips.

The games included in this guide are the standard bingo, memory, and jeopardy type games that are enjoyed in our home.    I love that all the games are not just suggestions, but are already  put together just waiting to be printed out and played.

I also liked the visual aspect of the coloring pages, timelines, maps, and composer cards.  My girls loved completing the coloring pages while listening to the music suggestions.    Even at twelve coloring is enjoyable for them.   The coloring pages were also educational in themselves.  While coloring John Williams' page, I-E asked did he make music for Superman?   Coloring the different movie scenes cemented those movies in her brain.

The schedule included suggests working on this program three days a week.   We completed the work all on one day.   The first section,  Ancient Music to Music in the Middle Ages,  took us about forty-five minutes to complete.  Unlike later sections it did not include Timeline, Map, or Composer Card work.  Reading this section took longer than the fifteen minutes laid out in the schedule.   Although targeted towards middle school age children, the reading level of this program seems to more appropriate for adults.  

I love timelines.  I try to incorporate timelines across all subjects and was excited about the concept of the Comparative Timeline in this program.   I would never have thought about color-coding a timeline to show friendships and influences, but ended up being a bit disappointed with how the timeline was executed. 

As you can see, the timeline from page to page does not line up.   It is frustrating to take the time to put something together and not have it crafted well enough to really use as directed in the guide.
 A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers  bills itself as "a close-up look at famous composers, their music, and their times with special attention to character traits and Christian testimony (or lack thereof)." 

As a Christian that uses mostly secular curriculum, I was a bit leery of the Christian aspect of this guide.   I often find Christian textbooks preachy and judgemental.   Over the years, I've grown a testimony  that enables me to discuss my faith without the aid of scriptures or sermons in my math, history, or English texts.   And I found that to be the case for music appreciation as well.   

The question of Christianity shows up in the Introductory Notes when the topic of who was included and who was left out of the course is discussed.   Chopin was included even though he led an immoral lifestyle while living with George Sand, "a women of highly questionable morals."   But  Richard Wagner is not included in the guide because although he is considered one of the greatest composers, the guide tells us he led a " blatant and boldly immoral lifestyle... from all the evidence the man was simply evil. "  Then the guide goes on to associate Wagner with Hitler by letting us know that he was Hitler's favorite composer.   After rereading that section several times, I'm still not clear as to why Chopin was included and not Wagner.   I am extremely uncomfortable batting about the term evil.--the act of judging under the guise of Christianity is scary to me.     As a Christian, I do not feel it is my place (or anyone else's) to deem another human-being evil.   So after reading this section I was feeling a bit leery of using the rest of the guide.   

And frankly after a careful reading of the rest of the guide, I'm just confused.   Some sections focused on the facts of the matter such as:  Psalms tells us music was used in Ancient Times, and  during the Middle Ages the Catholic Church  had certain rules as to the criteria of music used in its services.  These are historical facts that make sense in a music appreciation text.

But when completing the Composer's Info Card for John Williams my daughters left blank the lines inquiring about evidence of  John Williams' Christianity because it was not discussed in the reading.  Nothing in the four pages of reading mentioned any religious beliefs at all.  

Other sections presented historical facts from a view point I strongly disagree with as well as  threw in  sermons just for the sake of a sermon .  The section on Contemporary Music explains how this period was ushered in by three important events--Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of a Species, which suggest we were not created by God; Sigmund Freud's theories that we are not responsible for our own behavior; and Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, which explains there is no absolute truth.  I see these events in a different light; rather than alarming events that changed our understanding of right and wrong, I see them as exciting scientific discoveries, which may or may not be truths, that move us along a pathway of understanding the world God created.   The text goes on to explain that these discoveries changed the way society thought and acted.   We no longer felt we could count on the way things worked, and therefore musicians and artists threw away the established rules by creating new scales, composing without melodies, and introducing the form of music known as serialism.   The most alarming part of this section is the last paragraph:

     As believers in Christ, we know that although people may come up with new theories such as we learned about at the beginning of this chapter, God's Word is true and unchanging. We know that He did create the world, and everything in it, out of nothing.  We know that we are responsible for our actions and that although we have a sinful nature, God can save us from our sin through Jesus's (sic) work on the cross.  Then, He lives in our hearts and helps us to resist temptation.   We also know that although there may be parts about our physical world that are relative, His Word, His laws, and His love are always true and unchanging. It is comforting to know that although some people are easily influenced and may react to  new thoughts in radical ways (writing music that is hard to understand and appreciate), many continue to believe in the world as God's Word tells us He created it.  Those who recognize and appreciate the natural laws and order that God created continue to write music that we can appreciate and enjoy. 

Is it a sin to experiment with music?   Do we need the assurance of Jesus' love and divinity because John Cage decided to create music out of everyday sounds, and Arnold Schoenberg based his compositions on mathematical equations?  

I will not have my girls read the Student Pages, but there is plenty more in this product to use.  The Composer Info Cards as well as all of the suggested music sites and resource lists are chock full of information that will help me pass on an understanding of classical music to my children.   Enjoying all types of games, I am sure we will play the games included in A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers as well as use the suggestions for listening and reading activities.   

This and many other music resources for homeschoolers are available at  Timberdoodle.com  
As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I was compensated in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

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  1. Thank you for the review.I was looking to buy it for so long, but something always stopped me from it. Thank you, we have enough books to learn about composers...will do fine without one more.

  2. Thanks for this review. I would not buy it for some of the very same reasons you stated, although it looked enticing when you started describing it. And no, it is not a sin to experiment with music.

  3. Great! i recommend this chinese inventions compass. That are many useful knowledge, i think they will help more.


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