At least twice a month, I give my students “listening assignments,” where they are asked to consider a new piece of music. For older students they are asked to write a narrative about what the music represents for them, while younger students are instructed to draw a picture of what they see and feel as they listen. All students are asked to verbalize their thoughts on the work; we discuss the instrumental and textural content of the work. For more advanced students we delve into the land of form and analysis. This is some of the most important work a teacher can do in modern day music lessons and here are some important reasons to consider for both instructors as well as parents:
1) Most parents are not exposing their children to challenging music.
The first reason is of course the most obvious; parents are not exposing their children to challenging music. Parents are busy and don’t have the time to explore the world of new music with the navigation objective of building a playlist of child-appropriate works.
2) The earlier you start a child on new music; the deeper they listen as they grow.
New music requires a strong memory. The ability to hold on to sometimes very abstract musical content for a while with the understanding that often times what develops in subsequent time has a relationship with everything one hears prior. Being able to hone this skill on challenging new music, prepares students to listen to long standard repertoire works because the demand on the ear is not as much as that of a shorter pantonal work.
3) It opens their ears to a richer sonic palette.
Imagine if you lived in a world of only primary color, where while colors were saturated at various levels, secondary colors did not exist. This is the world of music if all you know is the standard repertoire works for orchestra and the commercialized pop music created only to turn a quick buck (and your children probably shouldn’t be listening to music that promotes the over-sexualization and exploitation of women for money, but that is another post for another time). There is quality pop music out there that pushes the boundaries of musical language, but the statistics of it being on the Top-40 chart that is propagated by terrestrial radio stations is extremely low. Introducing children/students to new music, particularly avant-garde works, is mind-blowing. When a piano student discovers the colors of a prepared-piano it can be life-changing.
4) It demonstrates out of the box thinking and promotes critical thinking.
New music sets it’s own rules, but it also breaks it’s own rules. By asking students to consider the music beyond just surface listening, it gets them to think critically. I’m always amazed to see how even young students take time to listen to a majority of the composition before they ever put pen/marker/crayon/pencil to paper to draw/write their interpretation of the work. When I ask them to explain the work in their own words, the imagery and analysis is often much deeper than one would expect a child to intuit. The wonderful part of encouraging this critical thinking is that once this skill is unlocked students start to apply it to other areas of life and education.
5) It promotes future economic support for new music and experimental programming.
Children who grow up with an appreciation for the avante-garde and contemporary concert music are more likely to support it financially as adults. Students often encourage their parents to attend concerts of new music, which introduces the parents to new music making them more likely to donate and pay for tickets to concerts.
There are many places on the Internet to get inspiration or find playlists of new music. New Music Box has their Counterstream radio station, I Care If You Listen has an annual mixtape, and we at The New Music Conflagration, Inc. feature a weekly playlist feature called Discover This: which showcases the music of a different composer complete with a little introduction to the artist.