Charlotte Mason implemented music appreciation in the P.N.E.U. around 1897 after she heard that Mrs. Howard Glover played to her little child the best music that she found to be interesting. “She (Charlotte Mason) realized that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well.” CM Vol.6 p.217.
When I first began educating my children, my mindset was 180 degrees from Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. The thought of my children experiencing joy in their educational endeavors did not cross my mind. As a child in school, I was taught to be focused on information and passing the test. Fortunately, I have experienced a huge paradigm shift in my way of thinking, thanks to Charlotte Mason. Ms. Mason stated “The question is not, -how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education – but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” CM Vol.3, pgs.170-171.
As I ponder Charlotte Mason’s writings, my ears perk up when I come across examples that complement her ideas. In a recent sermon, Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Church in NY, explained a concept that connected so well with Ms. Mason’s approach to education.
“When I was in college, I took a music appreciation course, and I had to listen to a lot of Mozart because it was on the test. I had to be able to identify Mozart for the test, so I started listening to Mozart to get a passing grade on the test…so I could get my degree…so I could get out and get a good job. I listened to Mozart, in other words, to make money. But today my wife and I will spend a lot of money just to listen to Mozart. What happened? Why do we listen to Mozart now? To get a good grade? No, I’m not in the class. So people will think I’m cultured? No, no one sees me listening to Mozart. Well, why do you listen to Mozart? You could say “I don’t know.” But what that means is that it’s beautiful. It used to be that listening to Mozart was useful, but now it’s beautiful, and beautiful means it’s satisfying in and of itself. It’s attractive. It fulfills in and of itself. It’s not a means to an end. You don’t do it because it will get you something else. It’s what you want. It’s one of the things that gives you meaning in life.” And to relate his point to things above, he adds, “A person with a new heart stops obeying God just because he has to, or because it gets you somewhere else, but begins to aesthetically find God beautiful in and of who He is in Himself. Just to be near him; just to delight in him.” I find this explanation to be profound. What a beautiful picture of how we should appreciate our Father in heaven. And what a beautiful illustration of music appreciation or education in general. We do not become educated just for the sake of “getting something.” We become educated because God created beauty, there are ideas to be pondered, delight to be found, and He wants us to fall more in love with Him as we learn about the world in which we live. Music as a part of His creation is meant to be listened to and to be enjoyed. It is a form of worship, and it is a gift from above. Our children will naturally respond to music with interest if we give them the opportunity.
I lead a group of children, ages 9-12, in music study in a small Charlotte Mason co-op in Charlotte, NC. As I prepare for class, I think about how my children may find joy in forming a relationship with the composer and in listening to his compositions. Felix Mendelssohn has been the composer for this semester’s study. Here is a glimpse into our year:
*Mendelssohn’s childhood story from Boyhoods of Great Composers by Catherine Gough in addition to stories of his adulthood from living books were read aloud to our children. They very willingly took turns narrating and seemed interested during the process.
*As a child, Mendelssohn and his siblings acted out Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in their back yard. At the age of 16, he composed an octet for this play which was entitled “A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture.” You can hear the fairies dancing in the music. How did the children know about the fairies? We studied Shakespeare’s play! It didn’t take them long to determine what they were hearing in this opening song.
*They also recognized the triple nuptuals of Theseus and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena when they discovered that Mendelssohn wrote “Wedding March” for Shakespeare’s play.
*Mendelssohn toured a cathedral-like cave in the Hebrides Island of Scotland and was inspired to write the “Hebrides Overture,” a.k.a. “Fingal’s Cave.” The children could hear the sounds of waves approaching the cave in this musical piece. We also located the geographical area and observed pictures of this cave.
*While listening to his “Violin Concerto in E Minor,” each child recorded what he or she thought about during this rapidly played piece. Their slips of paper were placed into a hat, and we laughed as we guessed what each child wrote: cleaning, swirling in a field, flying butterflies, etc.
*We observed a young child playing Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” on her piano which was featured on YouTube. Free printed internet music of this song was given to the students so they could play it on their pianos at home if they so desired.
*We listened to the first song of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. We learned that the four beginning chords represented Elijah’s words “And this is the Word of the Lord” which he stated before prophesying a time of drought for the unrepentant Israelites. It was challenging to identify the characters (Elijah, the widow, etc.) based upon the four vocal ranges (bass, tenor, alto, and soprano) included in the song.
*And, last but not least, we think of Mendelssohn when we hear “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” because he composed the music to this highly recognizable Christmas hymn written by Charles Wesley 100 years earlier.
Although our children did in fact have a have a written narration exam at the end of the semester, their motivation was not to “pass the test.” They delighted in getting to know this man of utmost character and enjoyed listening to his sensational compositions. Their behavior showed that they did, in fact, care about what was being placed before them. Ms. Mason was right, and for that, I am thankful.