Many parents are put off from the teaching of music because they have not studied it themselves. The goal of quality education should be a familiarity with historic classical music, regardless of whether you or your children ever become trained musicians.
One way to learn together would be to study one composer for a month or two. The library can be your source for most materials. My suggestion would be to own one or two good books on the history of music, and to follow a chronological approach, possibly taking several years. The children could even do a musical timeline to correspond to your study.
With the wonderful, inexpensive CDs and downloads available for purchase, or even for loan in most public libraries, every family can have wonderful music playing while they are doing dishes, working on a project, or weeding the garden.
Someday you'll be in a shop or lovely restaurant and your children will say, "Mommy, they're playing our song 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring!'" Our goal is for our children to own classical music for themselves — for life.
The Gift of Music
The single best resource I know for teaching the history of music is a paperback book entitled The Gift of Music (Smith & Carlson, Crossway Publishing, 1995). Written by two musicians who worked at L'Abri in Switzerland, it speaks of Francis Schaeffer's commitment to scholarly excellence and classical education.
Jane Stuart Smith, herself an accomplished opera singer, has given lectures at L'Abri for many years on the lives of great composers. Her associate, Betty Carlson, compiled this resource working with Smith's notes.
What I so appreciate are the authors' Judeo-Christian perspective. They tell us such facts as when Bach wrote music he began with the inscription, "With the Help of Jesus" and ended with "To God be the Glory."
The question they teach us to ask in studying the lives of great composers is "What was this person's world view?"; naturally their music will be an outgrowth of that.
In reading The Gift of Music, I was pleasantly surprised by how many great composers had a living relationship with the Lord - and how this affected the music they created.
In order to properly educate our children we must first educate ourselves. I would not suggest giving this book to a younger child to read to themselves, or even attempt to read it aloud. This book is an invaluable resource for you, as a parent, to read and then share as you teach classical music to your children.
Piero Ventura, Putnam Publishers, 1989
This is a book that every child should have the opportunity to grow up with. The illustrations are tiny little cartoon type drawings with a whimsical flavor, that both children and adults find irresistible. Full portraits of each classical composer are also included.
Even more valuable than the artwork is this book's ability to communicate the inter-working of the history of music, actually imparting a musical timeline into children's minds. While your children are innocently eating peanut-butter sandwiches and paging through this coffee-table book, they will be absorbing important facts. For example, Bach, Handel and Vivaldi were all living and composing at the same time.
But (shhh!) don't tell them this book is educational — just let them fight over who gets to look at all the neat pictures.
Music (Eye Witness Books)
Alfred Knopf. NY.
This is a fascinating pictorial journey through the world of musical instruments. If you want your children to have a familiarity with violins, harps, French horns and zithers, this is the book for you. The primitive origins of the instruments we know today are discussed, as well as their place in history and mythology.
Music, as with many of the books in the Eye Witness Series, should be available in most public libraries.
Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells
Opal Wheeler, E.P. Dutton
Opal Wheeler is an author every homeschool family should be aware of. Though her books were written in the 1940's, nearly every public library has them readily available.
Mrs. Wheeler wrote a series of biographies for children of all the greatest composers lives. What is so delightful about them is the innocence she depicts in their early childhoods. She seems to find just the right anecdotes and stories that delight children just like themselves! (Her books are written very simply, and in large print - so nearly any age could enjoy listening to them or reading them.)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Reba Paeff Mirsky, Follet Publishing Co. 1965
Another series of biographies in many libraries are the books of great composers' lives by Reba Mirsky. Although these books are not as simply written as Opal Wheeler's, they are still very readable for most children, and are filled with lots of detailed information.
As is so often the case with books that are more than 25 years old, the Judeo-Christian emphasis is very clear in these stories, and they also cover the composers' childhoods at great length.
Both Opal Wheeler and Reba Mirsky's books would be very helpful in a timeline study of the history of music — while actually listening to each composer's work.