We asked ACO violinist Mark Ingwersen to tell us how he went about introducing his children to orchestral music. For anyone interested in trying this at home, the accompanying Spotify playlist contains some of our favourite recordings of each of the pieces Mark has mentioned.
When asked to share the music I used to introduce my children to orchestras over the years, I found there were some pieces that were obvious, some that were very personal, and some that I felt I probably shouldn’t admit to. So here goes - and don’t judge me!
I won’t divulge the sorts of things I played to them when they were really young because, let’s face it - you pretty much do whatever is going to make your life a bit easier. If they like that one song off the Play School CD then yes, I’m guilty of playing it ten times in a row if it offers some peace and tranquillity for a car trip. I actually remember when my eldest was 18 months and we had a family trip to Italy off the back of an ACO tour. We managed to navigate two weeks of travelling with the help of just one Justine Clarke CD. Sadly, the CD was “accidentally” left in the rental car at the end of the trip...
Having said this, I do remember having some “adult” CDs in the car that I could always get away with when they were in the right mood (or maybe they were just asleep?). One in particular was Bach’s cantata Ich Habe Genug. It has the most beautiful oboe part and we always somehow feel more grounded and at peace after listening to this... or maybe it’s just me.
Thankfully, the stage of playing the music of least resistance eventually passed, and we began to start deliberately choosing music that would get them to hear it as more than just sound in the background.
It seems obvious but anything that has a good (and sometimes recognised) tune or beat will get them to listen in a different way. Some examples of this are Ravel’s Bolero, Holst’s The Planets (mars in particular), Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Saint Saëns’s Carnival of The Animals and Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf.
Those last three enter that realm of programmatic music which clearly depicts scenes or events, which means that a very short explanation can transform the music from just nice tunes to a scene with animals, or wind, thunder and ice for children.
Once the kids were able to sit through a concert (or even half a concert) it got much more interesting. Listening to live music is such a different experience, and I’ve found that even young kids will surprise you with what they’re capable of sitting through (although perhaps the baby I remember being whisked out of the Opera House during a performance of George Crumb’s Black Angels wasn’t quite ready...)
Naturally I have taken my kids to various ACO concerts over the years, which has had some great results. Of course Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a “must hear it live” experience for anyone, child or otherwise, but Mozart’s Last Symphonies also seemed to resonate particularly well. It’s a lot of Mozart to hear in one sitting, but even though I fully expected her not to make it past interval, my daughter managed the whole thing without complaint.
Outside of a concert setting, I also remember bringing a violin into my daughter’s kindergarten class at the request of the teacher. After playing some solo Bach (Adagio from the G minor solo sonata) the class wanted to hear something “really hard”! As it was a “soft” audience I obliged with the first Paganini caprice and watched as their jaws dropped to the floor (along with a few notes if I’m being honest!). Kids seem to have an instinctive grasp of what is difficult or dangerous, so this sort of music can be a thrill to watch.
If your child plays an instrument, then anything that shows off that instrument is going to be a winner. After Ilya Gringolts played Paganini’s first violin concerto in our tour last year, my violin-playing daughter was noticeably inspired by the virtuosity of the piece, and the ease with which he seemed to play it.
Now that the kids are getting older, they’ve started developing their own musical tastes with their influences coming more from friends at school (although a few well-chosen items from their father still make the cut). They still surprise me sometimes though, and I guess that it’s not a bad thing that we keep introducing each other to new music - as uncomfortable as that may be for both of us!
If you're interested in introducing your children to the world of live orchestral performances then There’s a Sea in my Bedroom, our first family concert series presented in partnership with the Sydney Opera House, would be perfect for you. Follow the link below for full details and tickets.