Classical Music As A Popularity Contest (Really!)

May 20, 2011

One of the today's most celebrated and incisive pianists and a recent father himself, Leif Ove Andsnes, integrates children's programming into an annual summer festival he helps lead in a small fishing village. Have you attended festivals with special kids' programs? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.

There is so much classical music that works for kids: All they need to do is hear it often enough to connect with it.

Last year in Risør, Norway, where I am one of the artistic directors of the Risør Festival of Chamber Music, we gave a lot of kindergartners a CD with about 20 musical highlights, including movements from a Bach orchestral suite, Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata and Papageno's aria from Mozart's Magic Flute. We played them continuously in the kindergarten breaks for two months and asked the kids to pick their favorites. From those favorites, we put together a live concert at the Risør Festival that was a huge success! The children loved everything on the program, which featured everything from Piazzolla to Beethoven.

It's crucial for kids to get closer to music, and the earlier the better. I think our kindergarten experience in Risør should be tried everywhere. What also helped it work was the fun competition that went along with the listening. In choosing their favorites, they could say, "My piece won and became the most popular!" They were so engaged! They really listened intensively to the CD, and it was clear during the concert that this was an audience that knew the music. These were kids just 4 to 6 years old, and it was such a wonderful and encouraging experience.

It's all about making music available to kids! They are just like the rest of us listeners: If they hear it several times, and taste it more and more, they will connect with it and want to hear more.

When I was a kid, my parents had a small LP collection. One of them featured the last two symphonies of Mozart, and there was a drawing of the god Jupiter – just his head, in fact – on the front. Clearly this image made an impression on me. I would always ask to hear "The Man" when I wanted to hear the "Jupiter" Symphony; and I would ask for "The Music" when I wanted to hear his 40th Symphony, still one of my favorite works! Those early impressions of these works resonate with me today.

I first heard those two Mozart symphonies when I was only 1 or 2 years old. My daughter loves Bach cantatas. We skip the recitatives and listen to the cool arias and choruses. It helps if her father starts dancing and waving his arms, which I do with Bach's cantatas because I find them so engaging. She loves it! Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit