How to Make Your Children Love Classical Music

You have heard about the Mozart Effect and want to add this accessory to your Perfect Parenting Portfolio, but unfortunately you do not know anything about Classical Music.  Do Not Panic.  Here is handbook containing everything you need to know.  I have arranged it in a handy Do and Don’t format.


DO Take the Family to the Symphony

Taking kids to a regular symphony concert can be perilous, as we have recently been reminded by Michael Tilson Thomas* and if you take children under the age of eight or so to a long, indoor major symphony concert you should probably sit way in the back the first time to see how it goes.  However, an outdoor symphony concert on a perfect summer’s evening can shine in a child’s memory forever. The smell of freshly cut grass and the wafting smoke from citronella candles, the flicker of fireflies and shooting stars, the bright ozone taste of a nearby thunderstorm, the clink of plates and glasses and the soft creak of lawn chairs, the tuning of the orchestra in the big tent and the sudden settling and hushing of the crowd around you, the applause, the bow, the downbeat, the swell of cellos and tympani in the gathering dark…a child who falls asleep lying on the blanket at his parents’ feet while gazing at the stars even before the overture has finished is a child who has experienced a very pleasant emotional association with classical music.


DON’T Take the Family to Musical Events Aimed at Children

At all costs stay away from anything calling itself a Classical Cartoon Fest, unless you like paying a lot of money to spend the day in the company of frantically perfect parents who can’t seem to stop desperately insisting in high pitched voices that their screaming, ice-cream smeared toddlers are totally enthralled by the music, and on that same note under no circumstances should you ever agree to go to a Children’s Concert either because if you do you will spend two hours sealed in a concert hall stuffed with hundreds of field-tripping children, the music overlaid by the hum and whine of starving, bus-crazed third graders and punctuated by thumps and crashes as they bounce frenetically and not quite rhythmically in the wooden folding chairs. They will wad up their programs and throw them, they will yell to their friends rows away, a few of them will vomit from excitement.  You can watch the teachers and chaperons swiveling constantly from back to front and side to side, hissing and swatting, trying to quell the most immediately egregious concert etiquette violations in a hideous game of whack a mole, which is kind of funny, but other than that it’s a horrible experience and you will leave with a migraine like none you have ever experienced.  Don’t do it.  I know it’s supposed to be educational, but all you’ll remember later is discovering you have spent the morning sitting in half a peanut butter sandwich that the kid behind you put down the back of your chair when you weren’t paying attention, and possibly you’ll have a vague memory of some completely incomprehensible piece of music about a hut that gets up and walks around.** Don’t.  Just…don’t.

DO Take the Family to the Opera

I tell you the truth when I say that opera is great for children.  Big, loud, outlandishly dressed people running around on stage caterwauling and shouting at each other, brandishing swords, knocking each other over, fighting endlessly over silly misunderstandings and falling for deceptions that even a child would see through, many of the characters ultimately collapsing upon the floor to die but continuing to sing for several minutes in what children find to be a very comical voice, seriously, this is terrific entertainment! Nearly all operas are sung in another language (Italian or German, mostly) but if you actually care about the plot there are English supertitles provided. You should always read the synopsis before you go just to be sure there isn’t too much murder or mayhem or outrageously immoral behavior, but of all the operas we have been to only Rigoletto and Lucia di Lammermoor would have been seriously inappropriate for young children.  Many of the Mozart operas are hilarious, though, and that is where you should start. The Abduction from the Seraglio and Cosi Fan Tutte are totally violence-free and  pretty much pure slapstick all the way through and Magic Flute has enough bells and whistles and fireworks and smoke and things that explode in both the vocal score and the staging to keep a whole family of kids happy all evening.  Rossini is also extremely entertaining.


DON’T Forget to Research First

Don’t pick your first opera based solely on which titles are familiar to you.  You might end up at Madame Butterfly and unless you’ve had trouble sleeping lately and don’t mind paying $75 for a solid four-hour nap, you’re going to feel as if you’ve been had.  You should probably save anything by Wagner for much later in your opera-going experience as well.

Further, look into the particular production you are thinking of seeing. Read the description carefully to be sure that the staging is not described as ‘trendy’ or ‘edgy’ or ‘modern’ or even ‘new.’  Don’t go see anything that is set in a dump, on a spaceship, in a disco or in an abandoned building until you have seen some traditionally staged operas.  Sumptuous and glittering period staging is half the fun.  Once you’ve booked the tickets, remember that this is a fun and entertaining family outing (like going to the movies) rather than an improving experience (like going to the Museum of Work and Industry).  Don’t gather a lot of boring educational materials and force them upon the children.  They’ll hate it and it will put them right off the idea of opera, even (especially) if you read the educational materials aloud to them in a voice of breathless wonder and delight.  By all means study the synopsis yourself and then share the information, but only because you yourself find it interesting.

DO Listen to Classical Music As You Go About Your Life

Here is a list of totally accessible and instantly enjoyable music.  You can buy CDs or you can buy them in other formats and put them on any of your electronic devices (which I will not show my ignorance by listing) and then listen to them around the house and in the car. These selections are totally non-threatening, non-taxing, and extremely appealing to all ages:

  • Mendelssohn – Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Symphony No. 4 (Italian), Symphony No. 5 (Reformation), Violin Concerto in e minor.


  • Beethoven – any symphonies but especially numbers 5, 7 and 9, the Choral Fantasy, also Consecration of the House overture.


  • Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen


  • Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, the Mandolin, Lute and Guitar Concertos


  • Praetorius –  Dances from Terpsichore (lots of fun, plus some of the instruments sound like kazoos***)


  • Bach – Brandenburg Concertos, Double Violin Concerto, the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello


  • Scarlatti – Keyboard sonatas


  • Prokofiev – Lieutenant Kije Suite


  • Smetana – Bartered Bride Overture, The Moldau


  • Glinka – Russlan and Ludmilla Overture (You might have heard this during the opening credits of the sitcom ‘Mom’)


  • also any brass music by Gabrieli and by Scheidt, as well as


  • anything by Shostakovich


  • And Telemann.  Only this morning on my way home from dropping off the Pokerface Joker at school I heard a Telemann Divertimento that was so charming, so elegant, so full of courtly cheer that although it ended just as I was pulling into the driveway I turned off the engine and sat in the garage with my eyes closed for several minutes, reliving it until it faded from my memory.

DON’T Patronize!

Do not patronize the children.  They can tell, and they don’t like it. Don’t throw on a bargain bin Best of Mozart CD, make them stop whatever they’re doing so they can listen to it, and then instantly start cooing, “This is Mozart, children!  Isn’t it pretty?”  Just pick something nice but not too taxing and play it at a moderate volume while you’re all quietly doing something else nearby. Don’t make much of it.  Don’t draw attention to the fact that you’re listening to anything different than the usual. Do not say, “This is Wonderful!  You will love it! Stop talking and having fun and LISTEN!”

That won’t work.

Also, don’t compare it to whatever music you usually listen to. Don’t say that it’s better, or more exciting, or even AS exciting.  Just play it from time to time. Sing along in nonsense syllables once you get the drift but for goodness’ sake don’t invite them to sing along too and if they should happen to do so, pretend not to notice!  And most importantly, when talking about the new music DO NOT use any voice that requires you to put on an engaging smile and go all shiny-eyed and magical, and you can apply this rule to all parts of your life if you like, not just when talking to your children about music.

Regarding your Local Community Orchestra: A Warning

Taking your impressionable young children to concerts of your Local Community Orchestra (hereinafter known as LCO) was not included in the list above.  This was not an accidental omission.   Subscribing to your LCO in a wholesale way is not necessarily a good idea.  You have to be careful.  Let me tell you a story about our LCO.

Our LCO, a semi-professional group of which I try to be supportive, has a music library which is not huge and therefore has some favourites which it performs often.  Inexplicably one of these staples is the Prokofiev Classical Symphony, a deceptively difficult work which, depending on how it’s played, can either sound sublime or sound like a middle school band playing a bad arrangement.  In the second movement of this Classical Symphony the first violins have a theme which begins way on up double high H in 37th position on the e string, a thin spiral of notes twirling down like the few first snowflakes in the holy light of a Christmas Eve midnight — except when the first violins are all fearful and tentative and not quite in unison, in which case it sounds like a metal garden rake being dragged down a chalk board. For years I shivered in my seat as I endured this passage, and closed my eyes and massaged my forehead and curled my toes and tried not to think about it. Having never heard it played elsewhere, I thought the Prokofiev Classical Symphony was really the most horrid thing in the whole world.  

So imagine my frustration when we were on a quick trip to London and the only London Symphony Orchestra concert we could get to featured the Prokofiev Classical Symphony.  We had to go, of course – it was the London Symphony! – but the outrage of paying $85 to have broken glass shoved down my ears was almost more than I could bear.  As the passage approached I activated the special sound shields that we violin teachers develop in our ears…and then the violinists gently moved their bows and the most lovely melody spun softly upward from the strings and floated gracefully into the ceiling and drifted back down upon us like a fall of angels’ feathers. It was exactly like being gently cosseted in a soft fluffy comforter still warm from the dryer when I was expecting to get whacked over the head with a shovel.

The problem is, how many people in our LCO audience finally couldn’t stand it anymore and just stopped trying? I’m just saying, if you want your LCO to be an enhancement to your classical music experience rather than a detriment, you’ll have to pick your concerts wisely.  And it might take a little experience for you to be able to do that.

And of course…

Finally, and probably most importantly, give your children instrument lessons and as soon as possible enroll them in a youth orchestra. Yes, you will have to go to all the concerts, and I’m afraid that it may hurt your ears for quite some time, and for that I am sorry. All I can say is that in the end it will be worth it.

This is true, I promise.

Alrighty then, see you next week.



* I don’t know how to paste a link, or the legally correct way to do so, so if you’re interested you’ll need to google ‘Michael Tilson Thomas New World Symphony asks mother and child to move’ and there will be plenty for you to read about that.  In the interest of full disclosure, I totally support his action.

** Mussorgsky, The Hut of Baba-Yaga from Pictures at an Exhibition.  It’s on EVERY Children’s Concert program. No one gets it.

*** the krumhorns


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4 Responses to “How to Make Your Children Love Classical Music”

  1. Swinyar Studio Says:

    Excellent and easy-to-read suggestions!

  2. Darla Stong Says:

    I knew there was a great reason for avoiding all those field trips to concert halls! 😁

  3. Amy Says:

    Opera. I’m doing it!! I think the girls would love it

  4. hunteeboy Says:

    This is Awesome! Thanks for sharing. All very important points to know, remember and implement.

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