The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club, Chapter 3: Music

It’s Week 3 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, a chapter at a time.

In Chapter 1, “The First Artist” (linked to my thoughts) Edith makes the case that because God as Creator is artistic, making the world not just functional but beautiful, and we’re created in His image, it follows that we’re created to be creative and to appreciate the artful and beautiful. In Chapter 2, “What Is Hidden Art?” (also linked to my thoughts), she goes on to explain that she is talking primarily about everyday endeavors, not necessarily pursuing the Arts as a profession (though some are called to that), and encourages us that though we’re finite and limited, though being creative requires some discipline and prioritizing, there are ways we can pursue it. The next several chapters are going to delve into some specific areas where we can learn to appreciate and perhaps even incorporate beauty and creativity. Chapter 3 discusses music in particular.

Experiencing music together as a family or with friends gives an outlet for expression, for relaxation, for “creative ideas and imagination [to be] sparked off” in each other, for enjoyment, and for personal development. She encourages letting children start off with their natural inclination to explore sound and rhythm (I can remember mine banging pans and such as toddlers).

She spends only the last few paragraphs talking about musical expression in the Bible, but that would be a very rich study to pursue further. We have the Psalms with their variety of emotions expressed in song, we have the encouragement to “make a joyful noise” unto the Lord, the instruction to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. God tells Job about when the morning stars sang together and is Himself called a song: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

To my regret, I don’t know how to play a musical instrument, but I do enjoy singing around the house, in the car, etc. I can’t say I know a lot about music, but I have always enjoyed it, and one of my favorite classes in college was Music Appreciation. I did not grow up with classical music but developed a love for it in college. I’m not much into pop music – the closest I get to it is some of Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Il Divo, etc. I love “the standards” – “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” etc. I also grew to enjoy folk songs – American, Irish, Scottish, English – a lot of songs from musicals, and a rich variety of hymns. Music, even secular music, touches the soul in a particular way that nothing else does.

I remember having a little toy drum and piano when my kids were toddlers, and if I remember correctly, our library had a regular time for preschoolers that involved musical instruments. Of course I sang to them from their infancy, we sang a variety of songs together, and they grew up hearing music at home. They all went to sleep listening to Patch the Pirate and other musical tapes. We didn’t start any formal lessons until they were 8: that was the age recommended to me by a friend who is the mom of a very musical family, and coincidentally, the age their school began piano lessons. I wanted them to take piano because it would give them a good foundation for singing, for choir, and for any other instrument they wanted to take, plus it’s a good discipline and use of time. I don’t know if any of them liked it. They were excited to begin, not so excited about practicing. They would have liked it a lot better if they hadn’t had to play in front of people at recitals. Only one taught himself a variety of other instruments (guitar, penny whistle, ocarina). But they do all enjoy listening to music. They all sang in school choirs, one sang in the church choir for a while, and one sang with an ensemble at school.

Edith mentioned at some point in the first couple of chapters that even if we don’t have talent or skill in a given area of art or creativity, we can learn to appreciate it, to see the beauty in it. I had not originally planned to do this when I first started this post, but this morning I was thinking that it might be helpful to some to share a little bit about listening to classical music from an amateur. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have much exposure to classical music until college. I grew up with “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties. 🙄 I can remember going to hear an orchestra with my Girl Scout troop and being fascinated, hearing a high school concert of Handel’s Messiah, and a few other exposures, and then when I got to college, I not only heard more classical music from some of the programs we were required to attend, but I had a Music Major roommate who got me started with some basic classical records. Then my senior year I was required to take Music Appreciation and loved it. But the first time or two I heard a whole concert, I was lost. I found a couple of parts that particularly appealed to me, but afterward I couldn’t have told you what they were. Listening more and learning more about classical music helped immensely. I don’t know a whole lot, but here are a few pointers for enjoying classical music:

1. Listen for the theme, a few notes put together in a specific pattern that repeats. This is easiest to do at first with something that is a variation on the same theme, like the second movement from Hayden’s Symphony No. 94, the Surprise Symphony (so called because it has some unexpected loud parts designed to wake up those who were dozing :)) or Ravel’s Bolero or the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The composer takes the same series of notes and repeats them with different variations: different instruments, different themes, different harmonies, different tempos and rhythms, etc. It’s similar to your music leader at church saying, “Everyone sing harmonies on the first stanza of this hymn, men sing the second stanza, ladies the third, then we’ll all join in unison on the fourth without the instruments.”

2. Listen for how the themes work together. This is easiest to do if the themes mean something to you, like in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture: the first part is here, the second part is here – I guess maybe it was too big for one YouTube video. It begins with what some people would consider high church or holy-sounding music, representing the friar, then goes into the the fight theme, representing the discord between the two families (the music picks up, clashes, you can imagine sword thrusts back and forth), then goes into the love theme (which you’ve probably heard at some point),  – and then all these themes start interacting, playing over and above each other as the young lovers try to connect amidst the fighting, the friar tries to help out, etc. Even if you can’t follow it line by line, you can get the overall feel of it. One of my favorite examples is The Moldau by Smetana, representing one of the rivers in his native Czechoslovakia. It begins with two streams that merge into a river, then the river flows alongside a country wedding, through mermaids, rapids, etc. It wasn’t until the Romantic Era that music was made to represent nature or literary themes on a large scale: before that it was mostly “absolute music” the same interplay of themes, but just as themes and not meant to represent something in life. Still nice, but a bit harder to pick out sometimes.

Two good piece for children are Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals (especially the latter with Odgen Nash’s poems in-between.

3. Listen for the progression. Like a good story, most classical pieces have a beginning, build to a climax, and then resolve.

4. Read up just a bit on the different kinds of compositions. A symphony, for instance, has 2 or 3 “movements,” and each one usually following certain parameters (the second is usually slower, for instance) and each with its own themes. It helps you not to feel so lost if you know a little bit about how it is put together and what to expect.

5. Learn a bit about the piece. Knowing that Dvorak’s New World Symphony was written when he felt America didn’t have a”national sound,” and that he invoked a lot of Native American and African-American-sounding themes in it, helps you get more out of it. The song “Going Home” is from the second movement.

6. Learn about the composer. A friend did this once: chose a composer and read about him while listening to various works of his to get the flavor of them. Knowing that Hayden’s situation and personality were both different from Beethoven’s, for instance, helps to account for some of the differences in their music.

You can see why Easy Listening music is called that. 🙂 It’s not that classical music is hard, necessarily, but you do get more out of it if you put a little more into it. And then just like any other song or story, once you’re familiar with a piece, you enjoy it, anticipate your favorite parts of it, etc.

I wish I had listened to more classical music with my kids. I had planned to have some sessions with one of these pieces playing in the background while we did other things, but I either never thought about it when we could have done it, or it never worked out as they got older and busier.

I mentioned my thirteen favorite classical music pieces here and some favorite CDs here (though I’d have several to add to that list now). Here are some of my favorite selections from different genres: