Music Appreciation with Beethoven

Or An Example of Child Led Learning…

Note: This column was first published in the Barrow Journal on September 28, 2011.  You can view the online version by clicking here.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, my husband and I took advantage of the free music concerts at UGA.  One of the concerts my husband wanted to attend was a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  It was during that concert that I felt my baby move for the first time.

Fast forward a few years until my first born is five-years-old.  He loves the cartoon Little Einsteins, which features music by a famous composer in each episode.  Out of all the music he hears on that show, he begins to hum (constantly) Beethoven’s 9th symphony or the part we are most familiar with: “Ode to Joy.”

Is it a coincidence, or is that just a catchy tune?  Obviously it’s a catchy tune, but I’ll always wonder if that prenatal exposure might have given him a predisposition to liking that music.  Anything is possible, right?

So our house is full of Beethoven these days.  I don’t think my five-year-old’s renditions of “Ode to Joy” are what Beethoven had in mind for his work, but I can say that forevermore I’ll be able to identify at least one piece of famous music.

I am not musically inclined.  I love listening to music and I like a variety of genres, but I am hopeless when it comes to remembering even the simplest lyrics.  I can carry a tune only so far, and you don’t want to know about my attempt to play the flute in the fifth grade.

My husband, on the other hand, while not a musician, is much more knowledgeable about music.  While I would rather listen to talk radio, he keeps his iTunes library neatly organized into categories and genres.  He listens to everything from classical to hard rock.  He likes to look up information about musicians, and sometimes he relaxes by watching excerpts of concerts on YouTube.

When my son first began to hum “Ode to Joy,” I couldn’t name the tune even though I had heard it hundreds of times. (Yes, I’m that pitiful.) I told my son to ask his father about it. So that evening my husband pulled up a YouTube video of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Then my little boy started to ask questions.

“Is that Beethoven?” he asked as he pointed to one of the musicians.

We had to explain that Beethoven lived a very long time ago and that he died a very long time ago.

Pointing to another musician in the symphony, my son asked, “Is he dead too?”

While it’s fun to find learning opportunities in a child’s interests, it is difficult to balance what we adults want to teach with what a five-year-old really wants to know.

“No,” we said, “he’s not dead.”

Then we found a photo of Beethoven, and this made my son very happy.  And then he patiently listened to that whole section of the symphony.

Since he was so interested in this music, I asked my son if he’d like to do a project on Beethoven, and he was enthusiastic about the idea.  He wanted to make a book, so we printed out a photo of Beethoven, wrote a few facts about this life, included a map of Germany with an arrow pointing to Bonn (where Beethoven was born), and then we added the sheet music for “Ode to Joy.”  We punched holes in the side of the paper, tied the pages to together and voila – a little book to showcase his obsession.

My son continues to hum, chant, and create odious lyrics for “Ode to Joy.” He also tries to play it on our small piano, and when we go somewhere in the car, he requests Beethoven’s 9th symphony, which my husband is more than happy to play on the stereo.

I can’t complain that my son loves Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Will it turn into something else?  A musical talent?  I have no idea.  But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

{Pointing to Bonn, Germany, which is where Beethoven was born}

What is your child’s latest obsession?

6 Responses to “Music Appreciation with Beethoven”

  1. My son has been listening to this song at night when he falls asleep (along with a few others) and at first, I never realized that it was this song that he was humming to during the day and finally one evening as I was putting them to bed- the song came on and I said oh, wow so that’s what you have been humming! And sure enough, it is his absolute favorite- he wants to hear it first every night before he sleeps. I would love to hear how your little composer is two years later! I think we will do a little Beethoven project of our own! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thank you for your comment, Brook! Unfortunately, Beethoven’s 9th isn’t featured in our music selections as much anymore….probably because the adults finally got tired of listening to it! I think my son would still very much enjoy listening to it though. My son hasn’t taken a special interest in music other than this. We spoke to him (and a teacher) about piano lessons, but my son was very much against it. I was a little sad because I think he would enjoy it if he tried it, but it’s too expensive for us to take a chance on. However, my son definitely prefers classical music! And since we listen to just about everything, that’s saying a lot. Let me know what happens with your budding musician!

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    • PS… Just today I heard my son humming Beethoven’s 9th symphony, so he’s still got it in him! ;)

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