Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hearing History

History has a soundtrack, and listening to it can be a great way to make history come alive and enhance appreciation of music and composers as well.  Music history can be a separate subject with tie-ins to your history studies, or you can just include some music along the way as it's appropriate.

Finding the soundtrack for ancient history can be a real challenge, because they didn't have a way to record their music, and music wasn't written down (at least not in a way that we can play or sing it!) until the middle ages.  But we do know that music has been a part of the human experience from the beginning.  The Bible tells us that a man named Jubal (eighth generation after Adam) was "the father of all who play the harp and flute".  Paintings and writings of the ancient Mesopotamians,Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans are clear that music and instruments were important parts of their cultures.  We can learn some of what they thought about music and how they used it, but we don't know much about how it sounded.

Around AD1000, written music began to appear, especially within the Church.  People began writing down some of the folk music as well, music that had been passed down from one musician to another before that time.  Listening to the music of the times you are studying, even in the background, can really add a lot!  Many of the great composers, especially from the Romantic period on, wrote music with specific events and people in mind, so those pieces are especially valuable for making history connections.  Popular music has always been somewhat of a commentary on current events, so consider finding out what the folk music of years gone by had to say about what was going on in the world.

Here's a list of ideas on how to HEAR HISTORY:

  • Middle Ages or Church History - Gregorian chant  
  • Renaissance -  madrigals
  • Shakespearean England - Felix Mendelssohn came along a couple hundred years later, but his overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a good accompaniment.
  • c.1600-1750, British history, European history - George Frideric Handel wrote a piece called Zadok the Priest for the coronation of the British king that has been used at coronations ever since!  Handel's Water Music was written for King George I's procession up the Thames River, and Music for the Royal Fireworks celebrated the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.  The music of Johann Sebastian Bach gives the listener a feel for what church music of the Baroque period was like. 
  • c.1750-1820, European history - you can't go wrong listening to Haydn or Mozart.  Although their music wasn't as obviously specific to events of the day, listening to it as you study the courts of Europe sets the mood.  
  • Napoleon and France - You might want to listen to Beethoven's Eroica Symphony when you study Napoleon.  Beethoven originally named it Bonaparte in honor of Napoleon in 1803, but when Napoleon declared himself Emperor, Beethoven was so angry he tore out the title page and renamed it!  Franz Schubert wrote art songs called lieder and some dance music, which give insight into what was popular among upper and middle class people in Europe.
  • c.1820-1910, Eastern European history - Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt made extensive use of Polish and Hungarian folk style themes in their compositions.  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky used Russian folk music themes in his music, and in 1876, Tchaikovsky wrote Marche slave for a benefit concert to aid Serbia after a slaughter of Christian Slavs in the Serbo-Turkish War.  Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is a popular and familiar piece of music that commemorated Russia's defense of Moscow from Napoleon's army.
  • American history - listen to the music of Stephen Foster, especially when studying the Gold Rush (Oh! Susanna!) and the building of the railroads (Camptown Races).  (ETA: Listen to traditional Spirituals and work songs when discussing slavery and the situations that led to the Civil War)  Listen to Scott Joplin's ragtime music and John Philip Sousa's marches when studying the late 1800s up to about 1920.  Listen to George Gershwin's music when studying the Roaring 20s and the Depression.  Listen to Aaron Copland and Irving Berlin when studying the 1930s and 1940s.    
The library and YouTube are great resources for finding music.  I do own a large number of CDs of classical and romantic music that I've collected over the years, but they represent some of my personal favorites rather than an historical cross-section.  The library, however, has an extensive collection! I did have to be careful to check what format the library's recordings were in - our system has a lot of music listed that is on LPs (for you youngsters, those are the big black grooved discs for which you need a record player with a needle!) which are not available for circulation, and wouldn't do me much good anyway.  Searching YouTube by composer or the name of a piece can yield some treasures as well. You can see the musicians performing, or there may be images that help portray the music or the times effectively.  Disney's Fantasia 2000 is a good example of history and music presented with images that enhance the experience.  I especially like the portrayal of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which follows some animated characters through a day in the life of jazz era New York City.


Suggested resources:

Do you have ideas or questions about listening to history? I'd love to hear your comments (and it would put a song in my heart if you'd also follow my blog using one of the options in the sidebar)!  Then head back to the TOS Homeschool Crew blog to check out the other 65+ bloggers who are participating in the 5 Days of... Blog Hop!


This post will also be included in the Artist and Composer Study Round-up at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. (this link will be live Wednesday, October 15th).
Artist and Composer Round-up

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Stefanie said...

Bless you and your play list sharing.

Wee Sing America was fun to use when studying American history.

Kym said...

That reminds me of one I was going to share - Beethoven's Wig CDs. Kennady loves the first one. Another blogger recommended them, but I'd have to go back to remember who it was. Anyway, I borrowed it from the library and it is cute.

Mrs. Laura Lane said...

Why have I not thought of this before?

We recently had a "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" eighties themed party at our church for the ladies of Joplin, Missouri area.

To get in the mood, I listened to some old eighties pop tunes. Swoosh! I was translated back to my high school and college days and big hair!

I'm going to pin this post. I don't want to forget it when I'm planning next year's lessons.

Blessings to you from Harvest Lane Cottage!

Kym said...

Thank you, Laura! Glad it sparked an idea!

Sara @ Embracing Destiny said...

Wow, what great ideas! We love living history books, but this gives me some ideas to incorporate music with them, too. Thanks for sharing!

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