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{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 Clock // Hadyn

Are you a fan of Daylight Savings time? I am not. Where I live, it means light until close to 9pm in the summer. Nobody needs daylight at 9pm. Especially parents who want their kids to go to bed. And it happens so early in the year! We have two-and-a-half months of school left, and evening daylight says to children, let’s stay up…things are happening

And don’t get me started on the dark mornings.

But whether I like it or not, it is happening this weekend. Spring forward…lose an hour…gain a sleepy child.

To capitalize on the extra attention on the clock, I thought I would bring you a little classical music lesson you can tie into any clock talk you might have this week.

Joseph Haydn is known as the Father of the Symphony. He basically invented the entire genre. And he wrote 104 of them. Considering most symphonies have multiple movements (parts) and can last as long as an hour, that basically means he wrote a whole lotta music.

Though he was born in Austria, he spent his latter years in London and wrote a whole series of symphonies that became known as — wait for it — The London Symphonies. Symphony 101 was the 9th of the 12 London symphonies and has a quirky little second movement, which came to be known as The Clock. You can hear how the instruments mimic a ticking sound – fun!

I linked the video to start at 8:25, which is the beginning of the second movement (where the piece gets it’s name).

Now here’s a funny story.

I was thinking about writing this post one day and picturing Haydn sauntering around London town and had this huge a-ha moment that The Clock MUST have been inspired by London’s famous Big Ben. I mean…London…music called THE CLOCK…it made perfect sense.

So I googled the dates to confirm Big Ben existed when Haydn was there.

Whomp, whomp. 

The Clock was written around 1793 and Big Ben’s construction began in 1858. Oh well. It would have been a good story. 

No matter, it is still a great piece and a fun one for kids. I always like to attach music to very tangible things when I am trying to get my students really interested. This is a great one (though your children might need a little explanation about how clocks can actually make a ticking sound. Not super common anymore!).


Subject Integration Ideas

This is an obvious piece for subject integration, especially at the pre-school/early education ages when children are learning to tell time.

How about some games and crafts?

Books are always great. Here are some suggestions:

Older students can enjoy the piece while learning about time as well. This is an interesting article about how railroad schedules required time to be standardized in the 1800s – pretty interesting stuff!

Enjoy this fun piece!




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{Music Lessons for Kids} The William Tell Overture // Rossini

The William Tell Overture was added to the March playlist for a significant historical reason: it was the first piece of recorded music ever transmitted on the radio. The event took place on March 5, 1907 when Lee De Forest (America’s first DJ?) chose the piece to grace those virgin airwaves.

But before we listen to the music, let’s learn a bit about the composer…

You have to love Gioachino Rossini. He wrote 39 operas in 19 years, most of which were pretty good. Then he retired to become a foodie. He ate good food the rest of his life and died content at the age of 76.

Well played, Gioachino, well played.

Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy. As a young child he wasn’t that serious about much of anything, including schoolwork. By his early teens he was skilled enough on the harpsichord to play with a local theatre company. He was composing original music by time his family moved to Bologna at age 12.

(And if you are now singing this, we are truly friends.)

He left school at 18 to help his parents financially and received an unexpected commission: a one-act opera for a Venice opera house. He accepted and was successful. More commissions came his way. Three years later he completed his first full-scale opera and the Venetians loved it.

Rossini was a hit.

G-man was young, successful, and decidedly popular – so popular, you might call him the pop star of his day. He wrote popular music that appealed to everyday people. Nothing high-brow, nothing fancy, nothing intimidating – it was easy listening and radio-friendly (if radio had existed in the early 1800s.)

Rossini moved his operation to Naples to win over yet another Italian city and thrived there as well. By this time he was receiving commissions from all over Italy – plus great cities like Vienna, London and Paris. He was solely known for Opera Buffa, comic opera known for everyday settings, local dialects, and simply melodies.

To state again: Rossini wasn’t fancy. He was popular. He was the Justin Timberlake of his day.

Cantankerous Ludwig Van Beethoven was once said to have met Rossini and told him, “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”

This was an insult, in case you can’t tell.

Rossini was at the height of his popularity in 1816 when The Barber of Seville premiered in Rome. He was 24 years old and wrote the entire thing in 15 days. His prolific career would wrap up 13 years later when his last opera, William Tell, premiered in Paris. After that, he chose retirement and spent the rest of his life celebrating good food, good friends, and a good life.

Not bad.

Now that you know a little of his life, let’s take a look at his most popular piece of music.

The William Tell Overture is a winner for kids. It came into popularity as the theme song for The Lone Ranger and hasn’t left the American musical conscience since.

Now how about a little subject integration? The story of William Tell is easily brought to life by pairing this great music with literature:

The Apple and the Arrow is a Newbery award winning re-telling of the tale of William Tell. Enjoy the music and this add this to your literature studies for excellent subject integration!

Happy listening!



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{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} Nessun Dorma // Puccini

Last night I made homemade pizza for my kids.

It isn’t as impressive as it sounds. I make this crust and use whatever cheese and toppings that happen to be languishing in the refrigerator. Not counting the rising time for the dough, I can have it in the oven in less time than it takes to drive to Publix and buy a frozen pizza.

While I was crafting our pizza, I had Nessun Dorma from the February playlist on in the background. The synergy of Italian music and Italian(ish) food made me very happy, and it caused me think about how music can really serve as the soundtrack to your everyday life. It can anchor you in a sense of place and history. These are intangibles that are difficult to articulate to your kids (and you don’t need to, really), but I felt our home had an added layer of beauty and history last night, simply by adding great music to the background of what we were already doing.

(And just to keep it real: my teenager loudly yelled, Can we please turn that down? And I loudly yelled back, It’s Puccini! It cannot be listened to softly!)

If you have never listened to Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, it really is one of the greatest melodies ever composed. It’s an aria (AKA: big, fancy solo) from his opera Tunandot, made famous by Luciano Pavarotti. Check it:

If operatic singing isn’t your thing, try the instrumental version here. And please disregard the unrelated space imagery:

I can’t explain it, but the moment at 2:40 in the Pavarotti version sounds like an actual birth to me. Or a glorious flower opening. Or something. It’s a crazy piece of writing — Puccini makes you feel a physical longing for the moment when the song peaks. It’s genius. (By the way, you have to listen to the whole things for 2:40 to make sense. It’s just like in life – you have to feel the longing for the payoff to feel complete.)

These thoughts, by the way, are not ones kids will ever synthesize. I know because one time I tried to explain 2:40 to a group of five-year-olds. One of them looked up at me and said, “Mrs. Hill, it seems like you really like this music.”

Some moments can’t be taught – they have to just be felt.


I love the Olympics. Like, I LOVE the Olympics. I go on lockdown for two weeks every two years and do nothing but live in deep angst for these people who have given the whole of their whole lives to the very moment I am watching from my sofa. The Opening Ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Games take place one year from today. I was texting with a friend last night planning our party. I can’t wait.

In 2006, Shizuka Arakawa skated to Nessun Dorma when she won her gold medal. Italian music in front of an Italian crowd in Torino. Smart girl:

Enjoy this epic piece of songwriting.

Make some pizza. (Or throw a frozen one in the oven.)

Watch some figure skating.

Add some beauty to your everyday, today.