Do you remember the first time you became aware of art and classical music? I think I was about 11 years old when I first begged my mom to buy me a calendar of Impressionist art and a 10-pack box of classical music CDs from Costco.
It was probably because Anne Frank was my hero at that age (I’d read her Diary of a Young Girl over and over), and if she said she loved and found solace in art and classical music, then I wanted to too.
Monet’s 1873 Poppy Field in Argenteuil—from that same Impressionist calendar, I’m sure—is one of the first artworks I remember ever registering. Probably because I grew up near the countryside and the feel of the wind rippling over the poppies resonated with me.
Of course, my first exposure to opera came from Looney Tunes, like “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera, Doc?” (I still can’t hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries without hearing Elmer Fudd echo, “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” in my head. Or the overture from The Barber of Seville without picturing Bugs and that mini lawn mower he uses to shave Elmer Fudd’s sprouting dome.)
That way of making a potentially stuffy subject enjoyable reminds me of how in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Francie’s warm and vibrant music teacher Mr. Morton “taught [the kids] good music without letting them know it was good.”
“He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Serenade’ and ‘Street Song’ and ‘Song for a Sunshine Day.’ Their baby voices shrilled out in Handel’s ‘Largo’ and they knew it merely by the title of ‘Hymn.’ Little boys whistled part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, ‘Oh, “Going Home.”‘ They played potsy, humming ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ from Faust which they called ‘Glory.'”
I’m convinced that kids have a natural affinity for fine and performing arts when you know how to play it to them. Consider Amelia Newcomb’s 2002 editorial “At 10, Hungry for the Masterpieces” for The Christian Science Monitor. Newcomb’s third-grade teacher, Miss Crankshaw,
“apparently saw no reasons her third-graders shouldn’t be conversant in European art of the 16th to 19th-century. Each Monday, she’d post a copy of a painting in a corner of our classroom, along with some notes. Our instructions were to spend some time with both before Friday afternoon, when she would stop the clock and draw us into an end-of-week art history chat that not one kid ever said was boring.”
Third grade! I just think that’s awesome. There’s so much fascinating storytelling there, so much opportunity for creativity and interpretation and self-expression for the kids.
That’s why I like volunteering at Art in Action, which brings visual arts to the elementary school classroom by putting together art projects inspired by famous painters and encouraging students and teachers to use their right brain and experiment with modeling what they see. (Below is bagged yarn put together by One Brick volunteers for a tapestry project.)
(Bottom photo: One Brick)