How Can Video Be Used To Develop A Young Classical Music Audience?

2011 Symposium2

While there are any number of what I would call novelty classical music videos on the internet, these can only peek an interest in classical music. They do nothing to bring a person to a live orchestral concert or even to introduce the novice to a symphony orchestra. The forest xylophone played by a rolling wooden ball I posted yesterday, or other similar videos such as a young man striking tuned glass bottles while passing them on a skateboard are fun and even breathtaking at times, and they do introduce people to the melodies of great musical works. But they are among the first steps to cultivating an appreciation and love for classical art music.

We mustn’t expect people to jump in all at once, so what is a good next step beyond glass bottles and rolling balls striking xylophone keys? One possible answer is illustrated by a traveling show that is quite popular called “Video Games Live.” A live symphony orchestra plays orchestral arrangements of popular video game music while the games are projected on a huge screen above the orchestra. Interactive opportunities are also given to audience members to play the games featured. This is a step closer, because it brings people who haven’t been to an orchestral concert before and probably don’t listen to and don’t think they like classical music, into a symphonic concert hall. They aren’t hearing the great masterworks from composers like Beethoven and Brahms, but they are experiencing live orchestral music, and music that sounds like 19th or 20th century masterworks, and so that is a step in the right direction. Here is a video of part of one of these concerts.

All it takes is a friend to mention video games are involved, and people who wouldn’t otherwise consider coming to the concert hall are willing partakers of this performance.

If my students have just gone to a concert like this, what would be the next step back in the classroom? First, I’d let the students talk about the experience. What they liked, what they didn’t like, what surprised them, what they would like to know more about. This in itself could be a next step; answering questions and discussing what they saw and heard. I’m going to want to connect my next step to where they are, so knowing their reaction to the concert is important to me.

After that, I would introduce them to similar music. Without telling them what it is, I’d play recordings of music by Bartok, Stravinsky, Orff, Kodaly, maybe even some early Ives. I’d ask them to think of video games they have played from which this music could have come. I might even be a little devious and ask them to guess which video game the music came from. When they find out it wasn’t from a video game at all, but from the classical music repertoire, I will have made my point. Classical music isn’t always so different from music they listen to everyday, and there is a good deal of it that they might really like, if they gave it a listen. Of course, it never hurts to through in a piece that you know is from a video game, or “Little Einsteins” or whatever you know they’re listening to or watching often.

By now, it should be apparent that I am using video, not to interpret and not to present narrative, but to draw students in to realize that they already have experience with some classical or classical-like music, and that they can fearlessly explore 20th century classical music knowing that it will have a familiar sound to it, even if they don’t know the specific piece. From there, I can reach backwards. Tchaikovsky wrote battle music too. So did Beethoven. I might show a battle scene from a familiar video game with the game sound turned off while playing the 1812 Overture, or Wellington’s Victory. I could ask them what the difference for them would be playing the game with that music instead of the music that is actually in the game. Now the students are analyzing and evaluating classical music, and comparing it to video game music. Then all I would need next would be an orchestral concert featuring the music of Bartok, Stravinsky and Beethoven, and we’re all on our way to becoming classical music lovers. It’s classical music on the students’ terms, not mine. That is the important difference; one that purveyors of classical music and music educators would do well to remember.

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