Whilst my musical ability amounts to very little (‘nough said!), my children seem to take after Gary (he’s a worship leader). The older ones belong to a children’s choir, an adult’s choir and perform regularly at weddings and concerts. T10 has also performed in a local theatre production. They are being taught musical theory and vocal skills by the choir master and will eventually take qualifications in both. Needless to say anything musical is a hit in our house. Problem is, I’m naff at anything that pertains to music. However, I really do enjoy our approach to history, which ultimately is ALL about the people; real-life, individual people. This is the main reason we spend so much time learning about well-known artists, scientists, kings, warriors, poets, writers and composers throughout history. Because it is through them that we might be granted a window into that time period for a few hours or days. So I chose to tackle composer study like any other history study. We learnt about the person.
I thought Guido d’Arezzo was a perfect place to start to link our composer studies to our history studies. He was the inventor of musical notation, and because of this there is quite a lot of information about him.
Our starting point, as it so often is with any person we are studying, is Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_of_Arezzo. Then it’s on to You Tube for anything more visual. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN17YF_p7fo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpJrAhF2jm0 and for an example of his music listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SugtS3tqsoo
After these two sources I go to Amazon. I struck gold this time with this lovely little book:
This book is a biography of Guido’s life as a monk, trying to have his notation idea taken seriously. The thing that strikes me each time we read a biography of a great person is the parallels seen between all of them in terms of their passions and goals. It seems to take dedication to the point of near insanity in order for these great things to be achieved. Vincent Van Gogh said, ‘I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’ Whilst Guido didn’t lose his mind, he was single-minded in his pursuit of his dream (to be able to teach songs to a choir without the choir first having to hear those songs.
This gave us lots of food for thought. We reminisced over Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel (studied whilst we learnt about creation), Champollion and the hieroglyphs (studied during our time in Ancient Egypt); we talked about whether it would be better to lose one’s life or one’s happiness (or indeed one’s mind) if it meant gaining notoriety and fame. Then we looked at each of these people and their motivation and found that it was never fame they were after, that fame would probably be too fickle to have caused such deep-rooted passions. By digging deeper we found a compulsion towards their goal regardless of the consequences, regardless of any loss; and finally we discussed what, if anything, would drive us in that way, and if, in actuality, it would appeal to any one of us to be driven thus.
Guido, throughout his life, had one staunch supporter. We remembered that was the case with Van Gogh (brother) and Champollion (brother). We discussed how not everyone is called to greatness. That those who are could not achieve their goals without somebody supporting them. I lead the talk and question the children but, much like artist study, there are no right or wrong answers. I want my children to have the confidence to think and to have the freedom to process those thoughts.
Once we had learnt all we could about the actual composer, we started to listen to his music. We listened many times over the weeks and familiarised ourselves with it. We discussed how the music made us feel; whether we liked it; how it might reflect the times it was composed in; but often we were just silent letting the music wash over us.
Guido d’Arezzo’s music is chant music. It is religious and contemplative in nature as were the middle ages. It caused some strong emotions in my children, especially my girls. T10 didn’t like it- it was too solomn for him! The girls said it reminded them of my dad, who died a few years ago.
I always like to record what we are learning and always in the form of note pages. I have a few favourite places to go. Nadine at practical pages has made some perfect note pages for us. See: http://practicalpages.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/music-appreciation-log-sheet/ and http://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/famous-musicians-biography-blank.pdf
Here are our completed note pages:
I asked the children afterwards whether they found this way of learning and reflecting useful. Surprisingly (for me) there was an enthusiastic and unanimous squeal of ‘yeeess!’.. Given that I didn’t really feel confident in my ability to lead this study, I think it’s been rather successful!