I (Renee’s grown daughter) had two friends separately ask me why classical music is so important to me, so I decided to take the time to write a thorough response. I thought you might like to read what I wrote, so here it is with a lot of links to peruse if they catch your interest…
I was raised on classical music. It started in utero, and then as a baby, my folks moved my arms and legs in ballet positions in time to classical music. By age three, I was playing the piano (video at that link). In my high school years, I was blessed to be able to solo on cello with two youth orchestras (these moments were some of the highlights of my life), playing Kol Nidrei and Prayer. Then in my one year of college (before leaving and writing the book Chucking College: Achieving Success Without Corruption) I pursued a music major, practicing I pursued a music major, practicing 3–5 hours every day and studying under a teacher who had attended Julliard. My parents didn’t accidentally raise me to love classical music. It was a deliberate move.
As believers, we cannot in good conscience let our mere preferences be the only guide in choosing the music to which we listen. Lucifer was the music director in Heaven (this assumption is based on Ezekiel 28:13, where the words that are translated “settings and sockets” mean “timbrels and flutes” in the Hebrew). This tells us two things: 1) the field of the arts can be a slippery one morally, and 2) if Lucifer had his hand in music before the angels rebelled and fell, there’s substantive reason to think he still inspires some composers and wields some types of music for his purposes.
As an example, look at Rock ‘n’ Roll. The very term is a sexual one (no further explanation necessary, I hope). Some believers will claim that there can be a Christianized form of rock music, but regardless of the lyrics, the beat appeals to the flesh (how does your body want to move when you are “worshipping” to such music?). Conversely, classical music invigorates the brain. It is very mathematical and ordered. The strong beats on 1 and 3 align with the human heart beat: ONE two THREE four; whereas in rock music, the strong beats are emphasized on the off beats 2 and 4: one TWO three FOUR (causing chaos within the body’s natural rhythm).
Not only does classical music appeal more to the brain than the flesh, it also requires extensive mental effort to play. Researchers say that it is only after 10,000 hours that a musician reaches the level of expert fluency on a classical instrument. The mental rigor required to play or understand classical music is a large part of what appeals to me about it. It’s not so much just the music but the culture of discipline that permeates the whole life of one associated with such music. There is an understanding that it might take years to master a piece of music, and that disciplined application toward goals carries over into other areas of life as well.
Homeschool convention speaker Andrew Pudewa has an excellent talk on The Profound Effects of Music on Life (I highly recommend it). As one of his points, he talks about a music study that was done on mice. The study was conducted with three groups of mice. One group listened to rock music for 24 hours, another group listened to Mozart for 24 hours, and the control group had silence. At the end of the 24 hours, each group was sent through a maze and timed. The rock group stumbled into the walls and retraced their steps confusedly; the classical group made it to the end of the maze in record time; and the control group was mediocre. This proves that music actually has an effect on ordering or disordering the brain. And also, it is to be noted, listening to classical music is even better than not listening to anything at all.
Choice of music carries over into worship as well. Hymns are much deeper in content and musicality than much modern praise music. It has been said that the repetition of some modern praise songs is the equivalent of singing “Mary, the cows are in the corn. Mary, Mary, Mary, the brown cows, the brown dairy cows are in the corn. They are in the tall, tall corn. And I feel good about the cows. I just want to go lay my head on the cow…” (Otherwise described in the classic and hilarious Youtube video: How to Write a Worship Song in 5 Minutes or Less—946,000 views). Compare that to the theological progression of depth in a four-verse hymn. Also, in hymns, if the words are serious about our Messiah on the cross, for instance, the music will deliver the same message and not be flippant. Admittedly, there are a few wonderful modern praise songs (including this one that I recorded merged with a hymn), but in general, hymns are preferable.
In homeschooled composer Ben Botkin’s talk The Power and Importance of Music, he asks the pointed question: “What kind of music do you want to be the sound track for your life?” It may take a choice of the will to start listening to a different type of music, but soon you will grow to love it. It is especially helpful to attend a concert in person where you can watch the choreographed dance of the orchestra and the intrigue of each person’s unique approach to the whole. One tip is to find out when the dress rehearsal is for your city’s symphony and attend that for free. It can be very engaging to watch the process of how a concert is put together. There is less pressure on families with small children to be absolutely still and quiet during a rehearsal (I have fond memories of growing up dancing down the aisles and writing letters to pen pals during symphony rehearsals).
I highly recommend watching this presentation by master conductor Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music
As far as composers that I recommend listening to, Bach is at the top of the list. Since he was a believer, at the beginning of each composition he wrote at the top of the page J.J. (for “Jesu Juva”—Latin for “Jesus help me”), and when he had finished, he marked the music S.D.G. (“Soli Deo Gloria”—to God alone be the glory). Renowned musicians say they can practice his music all their lives and still discover something new (not true of more modern composers). Mozart and Beethoven are also excellent choices. We have an engaging audio CD of the biography of Bach available.
In case you want a listening list to go through during meals or housecleaning, here are some of my all-time favorites (many of which I have personal connections to—either having played them or known someone who did),
Theme from Schlinder’s List by the great violinist Itzhak Perlman
Dvorak, Silent Woods, Yo-Yo Ma on cello
Bach Harpsichord Concerto in D Major
Bach Violin Partita in E Major
Chopin Nocturne transcribed for cello
Bach French Suite No 5 for piano
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
CPE Bach Cello Concerto
Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy
Handel’s Messiah (all 2 hours)
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
Fun videos for the children:
Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Beethoven) flashmob!
The William Tell Overture (with movements!!!)
Flight of the Bumblebee performed on piano by an amazing boy
3 year old Jonathan conducting
Victor Borge Classical comedian: Hungarian Rhapsody
The Minute Waltz for two pianos
Blue Danube Waltz by the Vienna Philharmonic, with stunning ballet
Almost Angels — a 1962 movie about the Vienna Choir Boys
And this is just the start! Each of these videos will link you to many other good ones.
For more on this topic, order How to Successfully Train Your Child to Master a Musical Instrument.