Classical Music CDs for Kids

A study in the 1990s from the University of California at Irvine demonstrated that “spatial intelligence” (the comprehension of visual information) in college students was “greatly enhanced” by listening to Mozart for 10 minutes before testing. This study became the basis for the book The Mozart Effect by Dan Campbell (Harper Paperbacks, 2001). Subsequent studies show the “effect” to be even greater in younger students.

The work of Paul Madaule, a student of the famous French researcher Alfred Tomatis, supports this type of result. Madaule extols the “universal qualities” of Mozart’s music, writing about how his music works its wonders among such diverse groups as primitive societies, autistic children, and medical patients. “[Mozart’s] music is the only one we know that creates a perfect balance between the charging effect and a sense of calmness and well-being,” writes Madaule in his fascinating work When Listening Comes Alive: A Guide to Effective Learning and Communication (Moulin Publishing, 1994). Madaule uses frequency-filtered Mozart music to work with people in need of health and healing, including the disabled, children with autism, people with attention deficit disorder, and even opera singers who have lost their hearing due to the excessive noise of their own voice—with startling results.

You may find similar benefits and joys from the variety of listening and learning materials geared for both parents and children created by The Children’s Group and based on the The Mozart Effect. The group offers CDs of Mozart’s music for just about everyone in the family. Overall, these CDs tend to be geared for music generalists or classical music “newbies,” but if you want a quick and easy CD to keep on hand or for giving as a gift, The Children’s Group has already done the work of getting the selections together for you.

Music for Moms and Moms-to-be (ISBN 1-894210-97-2): This CD seeks to pamper and encourage new mothers, including visualization suggestions: “Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Let stress flow out of your body, and reflect on the love that connects your family.” It provides other words of encouragement in the insert: “Music for Moms and Moms-to-be is about self-nurturing.”

The collection includes movements from divertimenti, serenades, cassations, and even an instrumental rendering of “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni. The tempos are all on the medium to slow side—andante, adagio, largo—with none of the sprightly and upbeat contrasting movements that normally round out a Mozart work. This is a nice CD for sleepless nights, during labor, or while trying to create a peaceful environment to help your baby get to sleep.

Music for Dads and Dads-to-be (ISBN 1-897166-25-7): “Mozart is a perfect companion to help fathers be important, effective, and active leaders in family life.” “Make Mozart time family time.” “The strong bond you build today will help set the stage for your role as a loving, giving, caring father always.”

The spirit of this recording for dads is more variable than the “mom” recording, more on the upbeat side, with selected movements from The Magic Flute, quartets, divertimenti, serenades, and sonatas, in charming, playful, walking tempos: andantes, allegros, and allegrettos. A pleasant rendition of “Pa-Pa-Papageno” duet in English is easy to follow and talks about “little children, yours and mine.” Solo instruments include clarinet, violin, flute, oboe, and piano. This would make a nice going-to-work CD.]

Music For Playtime (ISBN: 1-894210-01-8): This is a well-constructed compilation that features three stages of baby listening: “playtime,” transition from play to sleep, and “sleepytime.” The tempos of each section gradually decrease until the recording ends with the gorgeous Adagio from the “Hoffmeister Quartet.” A treat is the inclusion of two movements from papa Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony, which includes the sounds of cuckoos, other birdies, and rubber duckies, using the glockenspiel, ratchet, and triangle. Delightful!

Guidelines for using this CD include not playing the music too loudly, gearing the sound source to the right ear (which is the musical ear—it “hears” faster than the left and connects to the left, logical brain), chanting “go to sleep” as you hear repeated themes, and gradually reducing the volume of the music as the baby goes to sleep. My only criticism is the absence of any of Mozart’s works for that ingenious 18th-century invention of Benjamin Franklin, the glass armonica (an amazing instrument created from wineglass-like cylinders that produce a sound of uncanny beauty). This ethereal instrument has an instant appeal for children and has not received the exposure it deserves. From Playtime to Sleepytime is a practical and useful compilation of Mozart for babies and anyone who loves them.

Tune Up Your Mind Volume 1 (ISBN 1-896449-55-7): This compilation uses the filtered frequency techniques Alfred Tomatis employs at his Toronto-based Listening Centre. Tomatis increases the high frequencies in the music—the high overtones, or harmonics—and decreases the low frequencies, to stimulate the brain with the energy of the high-frequency vibrations. The method involves using the CD as background music, directed toward the right ear, never too loud, and for only 25 minutes at a time. You could use this CD during reading time at home or at school, before a test, before going to bed, or while in the car. Please consult When Listening Comes Alive for further information on the fascinating potential of high-frequency harmonics.

Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage (ISBN 1-896449-67-0): This is a story-music CD not unlike the original Beethoven Lives Upstairs (ISBN: 1-89540407308). In this story, three children travel back in time with Mozart’s son, Karl, and learn about the life and genius of Mozart along the way.

I am not a big fan of fantasy or fiction stories imposed on historical fact. Mozart’s story is unique and full enough to warrant being told straight without any fabricated people or devices, particularly time machines! I did like the references to real events, such as Mozart concertizing from a young age, and making marriage proposals at age 8, along with his first symphony, his uncanny memorization (such as writing out the entire Allegri Miserere after one hearing), and his love poems to Constanze Weber—but at times I found the dialogue obtrusive and distracting. The voices of the actors in this series do not sound like Mozart or Leopold or Beethoven probably sounded—too much “acting,” too ordinary, and too “American.” The sopranos used for the duets and arias, however, were appropriately young-sounding and quite accessible to younger ears—particularly since the texts are in English (a strong point for newcomers to the world of opera, especially children).

This CD—and its companion DVD, VHS, and other educational aids—would make a good starting point for the study of classical music at home, in public or private schools, during a diversion in the car, or during a quiet time of study. Also available: Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery (ISBN: 1-8950404-77-0).

The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids in English! (ISBN 189450252-3): I am very excited about this compilation CD. Here we have many of the standard opera arias—“Largo al factotum,” “Habañera,” “Non più andra,” “Caro nome,” “Der Hölle Rache”—all in English. I am impressed with a number of features of this recording. The singers are all excellent—including countertenor Daniel Taylor singing quite poignantly—and well suited to a recording of opera music for children. Each singer has a youthful appeal in his or her voice without the excessively wide or slow vibratos or the overly dark tones that can plague the mature voice (and might be less attractive to the young ear).

For example, “Un bel di” sung by Natalie Choquette has enough of a crossover-music theater sound to remind me strongly of a young Sarah Brightman, mixing a great deal of speech tone with heady operatic fullness. Tracy Dahl provides some of the most charming and technically excellent singing with “The Doll Song,” as well as a truly adolescent-sounding Erin Thrall as Cherubino in “Voi, che sapete.”

I also appreciate the clever appropriations by librettist Daniel Libman, who wisely kept enough of the original language where it really matters in “Bravo, bravissimo, bravo” in “Largo al factotum,” “L’amor!” in Carmen’s “Habañera,” “Toréador, en guarde” for Don José, and “Gualtier Maldé” in “Caro nome.” Libman creates easy-to-understand translations of the original libretti that bring the arias immediately and accessibly to the English-speaker’s ear. Unlike many a recording sung in English in which the words are indiscernible, these singers have taken great care to make the text understood in American English—even without needing to look at the insert. Bravi.

I whole-heartedly endorse endeavors such as The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids in English! in helping to bring opera to a wider audience, starting with the future: our children. This is one CD I cannot recommend enough.

Executive Producer Michelle Hendersen notes that these arias can be enjoyed alone as “opera songs,” but to use discretion to determine how much of the original story to share with your child or children, based on their age level. As with all the other offerings from The Children’s Group, a teacher’s guide is also available.

Theresa Rodriguez

Theresa Rodriguez received her master of music with distinction in voice pedagogy and performance from Westminster Choir College at Rider University in Princeton, NJ. She is currently a member of the voice faculty at the Community School of Music and the Arts at the Goggleworks in Reading, PA. She recently published a book of poetry entitled “Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs,” which is available on Amazon.