I have been looking forward to this post very much. These pieces of music I'm about to mention are among my favorites! I've not met a kid yet who didn't start enjoying music once these got pulled out. I remember my own copy of "Peter & the Wolf"-- a lovely oversized book with accompanying cassette tape. This was my primary source of exposure to the idea of an orchestra, and to the timbres and sounds of various instruments. Today I use these orchestral works in my preschool class (and even my middle & high school classes as a bit of a treat-- everyone loves a good story) to introduce not only the instruments of the orchestra, but most of the foundational musical principals I'll later address as "Music Mechanics" (aka very very basic musical theory). Later I'll post my actual "Orchestra Unit," so you can see how I interweave musical games, dance, musical stories, and books about music.
Remember, your goal is always to give your children as many types of experience with music as you can-- each one forms a "hook" or a "tag" for their brain to build on, so that they understand well the ideas behind music. Our goal is to make musical knowledge so deeply a part of their experience that it's like the concept of "family"-- they know all about it, they don't have to think about it, and they use it constantly. So... listen to the music, read the books, talk about them, color pictures of them, re-tell the stories, dance to the music...
Multi-media Orchestral Works:
-- Peter & the Wolf-- Prokofiev's wonderful "musical fairy tale" written especially to introduce children to the orchestra. My students experience it first in silence (well, as silent as 4 year olds can be), without any pictures, but later as it gets more familiar, we love this book version.
-- The Carnival of the Animals-- St. Saens wrote this as a sort of joke for his family to enjoy; each piece of the suite calls to mind a particular animal. My students LOVE to dance to it! There are two ways to enjoy this besides just listening to the suite: first, reading the poems by Ogden Nash (my favorite), second, the book by John Lithgow. The book creates a story using the suite as background, which can be confusing to small children, but which is fun in its own way. It was written in order to turn the suite into a ballet. I highly recommend going to see the ballet with your kids if you ever can! This website is really helpful. A new book, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (amazing-- she did the Harry Potter books) is coming out in August!
-- Babar the Elephant-- Poulenc's work is inspired by the popular children's story. On this CD it is paired with The Mother Goose Suite (Ravel)
-- A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra-- Benjamin Britten wrote this so that children could easily hear the timbres different instruments offer to a theme. It is often sold on CDs with Peter & the Wolf and/or Carnival of the Animals. This book and narrated CD is really helpful.
Some other great works for children:
-- The Surprise Symphony,
-- The Planets, Gustav Holtz
-- The Sorcorer's Apprentice
Example of how you might use these ideas:
After you've spent 2-3 weeks reading books about the orchestra, interspersed with musical games, you're ready to add in a musical story, say Peter & the Wolf. Take 2 "sessions" just to listen to it all the way through. Later sing the themes, identify the instruments, look at pictures of them, dance, do anything you can think of to add another layer of experience to the music. Later add the book Meet the Orchestra or The Story of the Orchestra. Begin to discuss the ways instruments make music- being blown into, being hit (allowed to vibrate), having strings that vibrate. This forms your basic categories of instrument families- woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion. Go back to Farkle McBride and the kids will see those categories in there. Look up coloring or fill-in worksheets online on the orchestra.
Now you have 4 "types" of musical activities to add to your music "classes:" musical books (read aloud & discussed), musical stories (listened to), musical games, and reinforcements (coloring/ drawing/ collages of pictures, dancing, music journal for older students, instrumental experimentation, & other forms of art intended to help the kids further experience the music). Alternate and intersperse them in your classes so that they don't get too predictable. I often did something like:
Class 1- musical story, reinforcement (dance)
Class 2- musical game, reinforcement (experimentation with percussive instruments), musical book
Class 3- musical story, musical book
Class 4- musical game, musical story
Go and see an orchestra perform or practice, and if possible arrive early or stay late to let the children speak with the musicians and see (maybe even touch!) the instruments up close. In about a month, add another musical story and repeat the process. Add in another musical book, say The Philharmonic Gets Dressed or M is for Melody. Keep reinforcing the ideas of pitch, tempo (speed), volume, type of instrument, melody v. harmony, and theme. You could easily do this for half a year or even a year, depending on the age of your children, working your way through the musical works I've listed, giving them a really solid base knowledge of the classical orchestra.
Next topic: Music History!!