I find homeschooling easiest at the times when I am enthusiastically learning new things myself. So with that in mind, I picked up a copy of Harvey Sach’s The Ninth, about Beethoven’s symphony, and today while the kids are out with their dad, I was reading it and trying to envision how I can share it with the children.
I have only read the first chapter so far but I am already thinking of how I could devise a game with the children, pretending that one of us is Beethoven. We have watched the movie Beethoven Lives Upstairs so they have some vague knowledge of who Beethoven is. In play, I would want to explore several issues. One is the question of communication while deaf… my three year old in particular would probably enjoy trying to figure out his own way of signing things to me.
My six year old would probably be willing to talk/play act a bit about the difficulties of setting up a concert in 1824. While Beethoven was helping to “direct” the music, it is quite possible that the musicians were given directions ahead of time to ignore him during the performance because he couldn’t follow what they were doing. Apparently many of the musicians who played at the first performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony were amateurs. Permission needed to be granted from the government to include religious music in a secular venue, and permission to raise the ticket prices were denied.
The music had to be copied by hand, accurately enough for everyone to follow along, and that was a significant expense. Beethoven had demanded a particularly large number of musicians and singers, and while I don’t know if any of them were paid just having to copy down the music for each of them would have meant more performers increased the cost. Discussion about the hand copying and the expense of that will tie in with a book we read recently about how access to different writing tools affected the way in which written language developed.
I’m hoping also to talk with the kids at least a bit about the ways in which we interact with music. What is a song, and does it exist at a point in which it is not being made? Early classical musicians wrote their music for specific occasions, but by Beethoven’s time he wanted his songs to live forever. What does that mean? And what does it mean to say that Beethoven broke musical expectations? Or that his music was to many of his time incomprehensible? I want to compare it with stories, and how we are accustom to stories following certain patterns. I think my six year old at least already has a basic understanding of the way stories follow patterns. We had looked together at the book Fairy Tales in the Classroom which has visual symbols for the standard fairy tale events. If there are comparable expectations in music, I want to learn about them.
I want to talk with the kids about music and how music communicates. I want to challenge them to try to express a scene of a story on the piano. Can they show different moods? Characters? Motion? Hope? What about risk? The booked talked about the idea that Beethoven was seriously challenging the musicians and singers, taking a risk that the music would fail because of their insufficiencies, but that the very challenge of the music in some ways fit the theme of universal brotherhood and what humanity could be.
Someday I want to share with the kids the poem that Beethoven used in his 9th symphony. I want to talk to them about the excitement of that time of history, of hopes and fears and revolution. I want someday to talk to them about the idea of Beethoven’s love for humanity and his disgust with humans. But those… those more serious conversations will have to wait till another year. The kids aren’t ready for those yet.
There are ideas the kids are ready for, and other ideas they are not. There are things I need to read and learn more about. I’d like to learn more about the musical expectations that Beethoven was breaking, so that I can hear his music with at least an echo of the surprise and amazement his contemporaries would have heard it with. Yet even trying to do that, I know I would never be able to hear it with anything other than a modern consciousness.