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Classical Music Playlists for Your Homeschool: Summer

Summer is here! I could not be more thrilled. Though it is busy in its own way, I love the change of pace that comes with the summer schedule. Easy evenings, late bedtimes, and no homework = all my favorite things. What does your summer have in store?

I spent more time than necessary pondering where to take the blog this summer in terms of music lessons. I don’t expect most people to be intent on accomplishing music appreciation lessons in between summer camps, family vacations, and trips to the pool. However, I do know that a lot of homeschooling families keep a year-round schedule. And some families use summer to catch up on things that may have gone by the wayside during the school year (ahem**cough cough**music).

I landed on a combined list for June and July (handily labeled “Summer”). Hopefully it will be a resource for those of you who need it, and if you don’t — well, I will see you in August. Or September. #orwhenever 

You can find the Summer Playlist on Spotify HERE.

Even if you don’t plan to do any music lessons, please still use this list to fill your home with great classical music this summer. Music has a powerful effect on a child’s developing brain, and simply having this kind of music on in the background will help prepare them for a great school year next year. Really!

(Spotify note: You do not have to be a paid member to access the list – you can set up a free Spotify account that allows you to listen with ads. FYI -with the free version, only shuffle play is allowed on mobile devices. If you use an actual computer, you can choose individual songs. My Spotify user name is kristihillmusic – just sign up and search my username to access the playlists.)

Ok, let’s get to our Summer Playlist!


This famous piece made the list because June is the month most associated with weddings, and this happens to be one of the most well-known wedding pieces ever. The story of how this one rose to fame is super interesting – we will unpack it later this month.



We’ve already touched down on Winter and Spring, so it’s no shocker that Vivaldi’s Summer is on our list this month. Your kids will love what the music represents – and it’s easy to hear. (The link will take you to the 6:00 mark, which is the beginning of the 2nd movement. Listen to the end – it kicks in gear at 8:11!)



Music for the Royal Fireworks is commonly heard in 4th of July fireworks shows. Of course, it was written by a German-living-in-England, so American freedom was not really on the agenda when Handel penned this tune. You’ll get the full story in July.




There are patriotic undertones for the next two pieces on our list as well. Dvorak composed his New World Symphony after moving to, you guessed it, the New World, AKA ‘Merica. The Largo movement now has an association with the military, and the Allegro movement sounds like a famous movie score. Can’t wait for you to hear these two!



This violin concerto from Baroque great Georg Telemann gained the affectionate nickname The Frogs because of its fanciful depiction of the little critters. Perfect for summer.



This is another piece that has become synonymous with patriotism. It was used in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and beautifully depicts American composer Aaron Copland’s ode to the everyday working man.



This gorgeous piece makes the summer list in honor of it’s original premiere date – July 2, 1900. You might know this one as the tune for the gorgeous hymn Be Still My Soul. It originally had lots more to do with censorship, Finnish patriotism, and the Russians. More about that in July!



I’ve often thought summer would be perfect if it weren’t for all the bugs. Vaughan Williams depicts a buzzing wasp in this piece, and your kids will be able to hear it clearly right at the beginning. Then they can enjoy the rest of the piece – which is not so buggy.



This one made the list in honor of Father’s Day. It was composed by the senior Strauss, father to two sons who also became famous composers. We’ve talked about the sons on the blog already (here and here) and now Dad gets his turn. Warning: it’s more of a cautionary tale of what not to do when it comes to father/son relationships.



The last of the patriotic inspired pieces on our list — can you tell I am working the 4th of July into our summer list? A Sousa march with a great story is perfect for celebrating our country’s birthday.



Finally, the quintessential piece that embodies the languid heat and lazy days of summer. I included both a vocal and instrumental version on the Spotify list. The operatic vocal might turn your kids off, but try and give it a shot. Go for the instrumental if they just can’t deal. (Instrumental linked here.)


And that’s it! I hope you can use this list to get great music in your kids’ ears this summer. Find the playlist HERE. I will have a lesson post for you Thursday!



{Music Lessons for Kids} Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring // Bach

The March playlist rolls on…here are the lessons we have done so far:



We are more than 10 weeks into 2017 and today is our first lesson on the mightiest of the mighty composers. The greatest ever: Johann Sebastian BachAt least some people think so.

Behold Exhibit A:

“Playing and studying Bach convinces us that we are all numskulls.” Robert Schumann

“Study Bach. There you will find everything.” Johannes Brahms

“Bach is a miracle of God.” Gioachino Rossini

And those guys are kind of a big deal.

What’s fascinating is that Bach was not a big deal, in his day at least. He was just an ordinary guy. He worked really, really hard, and he was faithful to his family and to his Lord. Though he worked for great churches (and even for royalty), he was no big thing because musicians were not elevated at all back then. They were kind of blue-collar workers, really. Bach lived to age 65, died quietly, and nobody much cared.

Very few of Bach’s works were published in his lifetime. He became famous almost 100 years after his death when a young, hot-shot composer named Felix Mendelssohn mounted a production of one of Bach’s lost works. Felix was 20 years old at the time, and he is credited with being THE reason Bach was re-discovered. It would be kind of like Justin Bieber making a long-dead musician a household name.

Or something like that.

How about an analogy?

Johann Sebastian Bach is to Chris Tomlin as ___________ is to How Great is our God

Did I do that right? I was never good at analogies.

The answer is Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and my point is that Bach was writing praise songs before praise songs were cool. He was taking new texts (new, as in, not straight from the Bible) and setting them to new tunes, to be sung in the church. This piece you know and have heard at one million weddings was the 10,000 Reasons of it’s day.

Or something like that.

It doesn’t sound that crazy now, but it was ka-razy then. Bach was breaking rules and busting expectations. To make it simple: Bach was simply ahead of his time.

The lyrics to Jesu were written by someone else – not unusual. But here is where I have to tell you the full truth about one of Bach’s most famous pieces: Bach didn’t write the lyrics and he didn’t write the tune.

I know. Right? It’s weird, and nothing makes sense anymore.

The tune you are so familiar with was written by our good friend, Johann Schop.

What, you don’t know Johann Schop? Yeah, me neither.

Bach comes into the picture because he lifted Schop’s tune and arranged it as part of a cantata (a big collection of music, all sung together). Over the centuries, Bach became closely associated with the piece and now it is assumed he wrote it. But you know the truth.

No matter!

Bach’s point was never fame – it was glorifying the Lord with his music. He often wrote cryptic letters in his scores like “S.D.G.” which stood for Soli Deo Gloria – “to the glory of God alone.” He wanted, more than anything, for his music to point people to the Lord.

There is much to be learned from Mr. Bach and his incredible music. He will show up many more times on our playlists. He is the best of the best.

For now, add this music to the background of your school day. It is perfect for homework ambiance!

A few versions for you…

Bach does traditional:

Bach does Celtic:

Bach does jazz (and maybe a little gospel?):

Bach does whatever this is called:

Happy listening!


{Music Lessons for Kids} The Storm // Beethoven

Today is our first lesson from the March playlist. Head here for all the details!

Ludwig loved nature, and he was known for taking long walks in the countryside. Symphony #6 (which came to be known as his “Pastoral Symphony” – also spelled Pastorale if you’re fancy) depicts elements of nature through music.

The Storm movement is particularly fun for kids because it is easy for them to observe the change between the storm and the moment when the sun come out.

Let me show you. Go straight to the 29:20 mark for the storm section. At 32:20 the music shifts perceptibly. I’m giving you this little hint but see if they hear it on their own:

This piece is ripe for Musical Sketching. I did this back in the fall with my students, and one of them drew this. Without any knowledge whatsoever as to the content of the piece! (If you use this video, be mindful the visuals give away the story.)

Beethoven’s Storm is also great for subject integration. Let’s see how we can work it into what you are already teaching…

Integration Ideas for Every Stage:

Classical music studied in isolation can be a little abstract. I love to find ways to integrate the music into other subjects to make it come alive. Because I teach in a Classical School, my ideas are loosely based on the trivium. Here are a few ideas for incorporating Beethoven’s Storm into other parts of your school day.

And, of course, you’ll want to have the music playing in the background while you work…

  • Pre-school // Talk about all the different types of weather and how they are different. Supplement with great picture books – try this one, this one, or this one.
  • Early Education // Create a 10-day weather journal. Look at the 10-day forecast for your city and note all the projected details: high/low temperatures, chance of rain, etc. Over the next 10 days, write notes about what actually happens. Compare to what was predicted. 
  • Middle Grades // Study all the different types of clouds. Check the clouds outside every day for a week and note how many different types you see. Use this resource to get you started. 
  • Middle and High School // Try this experiment!


I hope you enjoy Beethoven’s Storm Movement. Use his entire Symphony#6 as your schoolwork background and infuse your home with great music!


Happy listening!



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Round-up: Remaining Pieces from the February Playlist

I like to think of music seasonally, just like food. Sure you can eat a watermelon in January, but will it be good? The sense of waiting and rotating is part of what makes seasonal produce delicious. Music can be the same, which is why I create the monthly playlists. A little infusion of new music each month keeps things fresh and lively. You enjoy it for a time, and then you enjoy moving on.

We are wrapping up the February playlist today, and I wanted to give you links to the pieces I did not have have time to write posts for. The plan is to fill out the rest of the lessons next year and eventually have a full set of lessons for you based on each month’s playlist. I hope it is helpful!

There are three pieces I didn’t get to. Below I am including my original description from the introductory post and a video so you can listen to it if you’d like. Use my favorite classroom activity, Musical Sketching, for simple music lessons.


Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini // Sergei Rachmaninoff

February means Valentine’s Day and all things romance. And when I think of a piece of purely romantic sounding music, this is the one that comes to mind. (If you are a child of the ’80s like I am, you might remember a little cheese-fest of a film called Somewhere in Time, starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. It has the best soundtrack ever, and it makes great use of this piece from Sergei Rachmaninoff…himself quite the tragic figure, but we will get to that later in the month.) This piece practically aches with romantic longing. Lush and sweeping. One of my favorites.

(Editor’s note: well, I did not get to Rachmaninoff’s tragic life. I will add that to my list for 2018.)

Go to 20:15 for my favorite (and the most familiar) part:


Pas de Deux from “The Nutcracker” // Peter Tchaikovsky

There is so much great music from The Nutcracker. We won’t have room for all of it in December, so I plucked this romantic piece out for our February list. This is the moment when the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with the Prince. Dreamy.


O Soave Fanciulla // Giacomo Puccini

Tchaikovsky is to Romantic ballet as Puccini is to Romantic Opera. (That’s an analogy I can get behind.) This epic ballad is the love duet between Rodolfo and Mimi in La Bohème (which, incidentally, was the basis for the Broadway musical Rent).

I know opera is not the most accessible thing for kids (or, let’s face it, adults). It helps to not over think it. It was simply the popular entertainment of it’s day. People went to operas the way we go to the movies.

Plus, inaccessibility never stopped my math teacher from making sure I learned trigonometry.


Enjoy this great music and I will see you Tuesday with a new playlist for March! It’s going to be a great month of music!





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{Music Lessons for Kids} The Entertainer // Joplin

We are winding down on the February playlist. On Friday I will have a round-up of the pieces I didn’t get  to + links for listening.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

To close out February, I have a great piece your kids are going to love…

Western classical music history unfolding the way it did, there is a woeful lack of documented African-American composers to include in your Black History Month studies. One significant exception is Scott Joplin.

Scott Joplin was the son of a slave. He had little formal training, relying only on a few lessons from a generous neighbor who gave him access to a piano. He had few resources, connections, or opportunities – at least in the traditional sense.

And yet Scott Joplin changed the course of American music.

Joplin pioneered a new, distinctly American sound called Ragtime. A combination of classical music and black folk music, Ragtime became America’s first genuinely native music — music birthed and cultivated only in America. Consider the significance: the genesis of all documented music had taken place across the Atlantic – until Scott Joplin.

In 1899 Joplin published the Maple Leaf Rag, which would become his most profitable piece of music. Though the piece was highly successful, it alone could not pay the bills. Joplin struggled financially most of his life. At one point all of his possessions were seized because he could not pay his rent. Legend says those possessions included a completed opera, now forever lost.

Scott Joplin was ahead of his time, but the joyous quality of his music does not reflect the sadness of his life. He died at the age of 48, deeply depressed, thinking of himself as a failure, both musically and financially.

Joplin’s music was almost entirely forgotten until the 1970’s when The Entertainer was featured in the movie The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It has since become a part of American culture once again (and a piano lesson staple for children everywhere).

The music is fun, and your kids will love it. But there is also much to be learned from Joplin’s character: endless perseverance in the face of hardship and unbridled creativity when all the odds were stacked against him.

It’s a great American story worth telling.


And for fun…here is the Maple Leaf Rag as well!

{Music Lessons for Kids} Lincoln Portrait // Aaron Copland

Music connects us to history.

Writers, artists, and musicians add language, color, and melody to our collective experiences, helping shape our understanding of the world around us. History without the arts is cold and dry (at least in this music teacher’s opinion *wink).

Most classical music originated in Europe and Russia, but the past 100 years has seen the rise of a few treasured American composers, one of whom is Aaron Copland. (You know his work if a certain commercial ever made you want steak for dinner.)

He is also famous for Fanfare for the Common Man (heard in the first two minutes here in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics. You remember I love the Olympics right?) — plus the gorgeous Appalachian Spring.

In the early 1940s Copland was given the challenge to write a piece of music celebrating an “eminent American.” This was during World War II, and the country’s morale was low. Copland chose Abraham Lincoln and incorporated the 16th President’s own words into the piece.

This version features Leonard Bernstein conducting, with Copland himself doing the narration. It’s a piece of history inside a piece of history as two iconic composers stand side-by-side to execute this beautiful piece of art:

The narration begins around the eight-minute mark – go straight there if your kids don’t have attention span for the whole thing (understandable). Don’t miss the emotional last note, their embrace, and the moving curtain call!

I love this piece, and I love this version. It seems super poignant to me for Copland to narrate, but not conduct. Almost like he is passing the baton to the next great American conductor (see what I did there?).


Want more? How about some subject integration ideas?

Integration Ideas for Every Stage:

Classical music studied in isolation can be a little abstract. I love to find ways to integrate the music into other subjects to make it come alive. Here are a few ideas for incorporating Lincoln Portrait into other parts of your school day.

(And, of course, you’ll want to have the music playing in the background while you work…)

  • Pre-school // Introduce Abraham Lincoln and explain what the President’s role is in the U.S. Look at pictures of Abraham Lincoln and make observations. Does he look like he lives now or a long time ago? How do you know? (Information here on using the Charlotte Mason approach to observation.)
  • Early Education // Research the life of Abraham Lincoln. Find the answers to the following questions: Where was he born? How long did he live? When was he President? What was happening in the U.S. during his Presidency?
  • Middle Grades // Learn about the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Imagine you had been the person tasked with designing a memorial to the 16th President. What would you have created? (Bonus: Want to use some historical fiction to bring the story alive? Try this cute series.)
  • Middle School // Consider this question: Why did Aaron Copland choose Abraham Lincoln as his “eminent American?” Who would you have chosen? Why?
  • High School // Read the Lincoln Portrait full narration here. Note the repeated phrase, “this is what he said.” Consider this question: Do words from long ago have power today? Why or why not? Defend your argument.

Copland’s Lincoln Portrait is a great synergistic celebration of music and American history. Incorporate this into your lessons for Presidents’ Day!



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{Music Lessons for Kids} Romeo and Juliet // Tchaikovsky

We are continuing to work through the February playlist. Check out previous lessons here:

Next up? The ultimate love story: Romeo and Juliet. Has any piece of literature captivated writers, poets, and musicians more than the tragic story of Shakespeare’s ill-fated couple?

Many composers have used the story as inspiration, but Tchaikovsky’s version is probably the most familiar. This is the love theme. Have your kids try some musical sketching. Without telling them about the story, see what they come up with:

Perseverance for the Win

Tchaikovsky was just 28 years old when he tackled this subject matter, at the urging of a composer colleague. He put his heart and soul into the work.

And it was a colossal failure.

But this is what is interesting: Tchaikovsky listened to his critics. He was just 28 years old, and he knew he had a lot to learn. He took feedback and reworked the material – not once, but several times.

The version we know today premiered 16 years after Tchaikovsky’s first try.

What a lesson in perseverance.


Subject Integration: Literature

I talk a lot about the need to make classical music less abstract for young children, and one of my favorite ways to do that is through books. If you can engage the child in the story behind the music, they are more likely to feel connected to what’s going on in the music.

A piece based on one of the greatest stories ever written is the perfect candidate for this type of subject integration.

(Note: Last week on Instagram I posted a photo of this book to correlate with our Sleeping Beauty lesson. I plan to do this regularly, so follow me at @kristihillmusic if you are interested in pairing great books with great music!)

I have a few options for helping you use books to bring Tchaikovksy’s Romeo and Juliet to life:

  • Shakespeare Retold by E. Nesbit // This is a beautiful book with accessible re-tellings of seven Shakespeare plays – including, of course, Romeo and Juliet. It also includes a brief Shakespeare biography, a timeline, and additional resources for helping engage your child in Shakespeare’s works.
  • Romeo and Juliet for Kids by Lois Burdett //  Part of a series, this book is tells the story entirely in rhyme, with whimsical illustrations done by kids. Other titles in the series here.
  • Romeo and Juliet by Bruce Coville // This title is out of print, but there are several copies available used. I tend to favor picture books with artistic illustrations, and this one doesn’t disappoint – it’s beautiful.
  • The Random House Book of Stories from the Ballet by Geraldine McCaughrean // Only used copies available, so grab one of those – or do what I did and get it from the library. This is a great one to have in your arsenal because of the multiple opportunities to connect the stories with great classical music. In addition to Romeo and Juliet, this book includes Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and more. (And, if we are getting technical, Tchaikovsky’s original music was a suite, not a ballet. Hopefully your kids will not be traumatized by this slight inaccuracy.)
  • Will’s Quill by Don Freeman // If learning a bit about Shakespeare peaks your child’s interest, pick up this charming tale of a country goose who befriends a young playwright named Will.

I hope these ideas help you engage your child in this classic Tchaikovsky work. It’s one of my favorites!




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{Music Lessons for Kids} Salut d’Amour // Edward Elgar

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February playlist celebrates some great love stories. Whether fairy tale, fiction, or real — love has always been a powerful creative force. 

Edward Elgar is most famous for a little tune we hear every spring at schools across the nation. Pomp and Circumstance, aka the Graduation Song, cemented Elgar’s place in the composer history books, at least in the U.S.

But there was more to Edward than the diploma march. The early years of his career were shaky at best, and there were many times he almost gave up composing music altogether.

But he didn’t.

Because of love.

Because of Alice.

Edward married Caroline Alice Roberts in 1889. Most people believed she was above his station, and they looked down on the match. But Alice believed in Edward. She believed in his talent and would spend years working tirelessly to support her beloved husband and his music. She relentlessly championed Edward’s work, sometimes at the expense of her own successful career as a writer and poet.

She even took care of tasks as simple as tediously drawing the straight lines needed for Edward’s staff paper. 

Alice was the inspiration behind much of Edward’s music, and most people believe she is the hands-down reason he was so successful. She died in 1920, and much of Edward’s creativity passed with her. He was never the same. He was buoyed in career and life by her constant love and support.

Salut d’Amour was written as an engagement gift from Edward to Alice. He didn’t know at the time what a force of love she would turn out to be.

This story is a great one to share with your kids. Love takes many forms, but true love — lasting love — is the kind that lays itself down for the other.

That kind of love is powerful indeed.




{Music Lessons for Kids} Sleeping Beauty // Tchaikovsky

We launched the February playlist last week and looked at Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen on Thursday.  Today we head to Russia for Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty

I love classroom moments when a student hears something completely familiar, looks up at me with surprise, and exclaims, “I know that!”

That might just happen to you today — especially if you have a little girl that loves Disney princesses. It’s a little surprising when you learn the Sleeping Beauty theme you have previously only associated with the Disney movie is actually from a ballet by a famous composer.

Sleeping Beauty was the second of Peter Tchaikovsky’s three ballets, sandwiched between Swan Lake (which came before) and The Nutcracker (which came after). Interestingly, Sleeping Beauty was only moderately successful in it’s day.

In 1959, Disney took Tchaikovsky’s waltz tune and turned it into the now-classic, Once Upon A Dream.

Disney history was born.

If Tchaikovsky only knew his waltz is now played (ad nauseam) on musical toys from Fisher-Price. (I know because we own this toy and I heard Tchaikovsky’s waltz roughly 6,345 times in the years spanning 2012-2014. And that’s a low estimate.)

So who did it better?


Or Disney?

The truth is, I LOVE that Disney harnesses classical music like this because it helps create the classroom moments I described above. One of the best ways to get kids loving classical music is to help them realize they already know some.

Have your kids listen to both and compare the two. (Note: the familiar melody starts about 30 seconds in on the original Tchaikovsky version.) Ask them which they like better – why?

Channel your inner princess and enjoy this music today!



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{Music Lessons for Kids} Wedding Day at Troldhaugen // Grieg

We launched the February playlist Tuesday! Today we will get started on lessons with a quick, easy piece from Norway’s favorite son: Edvard Grieg.

Now here is what you need to know: Edvard Grieg is a real big deal in Norway.

A celebrated hero.

Beloved and revered.

A Norwegian classical music rock-star.

(Or something like that.)

Grieg is most famous for the Peer Gynt Suite which has one of my all-time favorite pieces to teach children: In the Hall of the Mountain King. (Aside: Kids love this piece SO MUCH. It will appear on a subsequent playlist later this year, for absolute certain. When though? When are trolls and mountain caves in season? These are the things I think about at night.)

For our February list, I chose Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Give it a listen and see if it sounds familiar:

I included this on this February because it is a love song. Edvard wrote the piece as a gift to his bride for their 25th wedding anniversary. Their home, Troldhaugen (sometimes spelled without the “g”), is a popular tourist spot in Norway. You can even take a Grieg bus tour around town after your visit!

See? Big Norwegian deal.

Wedding Day at Troldhaugen is one of those pieces that is fun to have on in the background while you are doing other things. Take a few minutes to learn a bit about Mr. Grieg and his beloved Troldhaugen, and you have easily worked some classical music appreciation into your day.

Want more? How about some subject integration ideas?

Integration Ideas for Every Stage:

Classical music studied in isolation can be a little abstract, especially for young children. I love to find ways to integrate the music into other subjects to make it come alive. Here are a few ideas for incorporating Wedding Day at Troldhaugen into other parts of your school day.

(And, of course, you’ll want to have the music playing in the background while you work…)

  • Pre-school // Talk about wedding anniversaries and explain what an anniversary celebrates. Name the months of the year and mark special anniversaries on a calendar. Explain that Edward Grieg wrote Wedding Day at Troldhaugen as a 25th wedding anniversary gift for his wife. Count to 25!
  • Early Education // Identify Norway on a map. Look up the following: capital city, longest river, highest mountain, and currency. Draw and color the Norwegian flag.
  • Middle Grades // What language did Edvard Grieg speak? Find out how to say the following in his language: hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, thank-you. Which is the easiest to say? Which is the hardest? Research popular first and last names in Norway.
  • Middle School // Edvard Grieg was born in 1843. Research what was happening in Norway in 1843 and compare to what was happening in your home country at the same time.  
  • High School // Play travel agent and plan a trip to Norway. What are the major sights you would want to explore? Would you take a trip to Troldhaugen? Why or why not?

Enjoy this fun work!