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Finding the magic in classical music through storytelling

The Music Workshop chats to Matt Parry, creator of The Opus Pocus on how to get kids to discover the magic of classical music…

“What is out there to help kids discover classical music? Especially at the moment with dedicated performances, workshops and group lessons so frustratingly put on hold?  

Of course you can just play this music to children, but getting them to listen to an entire symphony, for example, can be a bit tricky given its length and complexity.  This was actually the driving motivation behind creating The Opus Pocus.

We have had Disney’s Fantasia (1940), Peter and the Wolf (1936), Carnival of the Animals (1886!), Fantasia 2000 (2000…obviously, but yes 20 years old now!) and not forgetting Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) but to my mind there isn’t a modern, fun series dedicated to helping children discover the magic of classical music: a bit like how Horrible Histories has so brilliantly – and hilariously – introduced a generation of children to history.  (I should also mention BBC Ten Pieces – which is great – but I think falls more into the ‘education resource’ bracket rather than ‘fun series with a sneaky educational aim’ like Horrible Histories does.)

So that was why I created The Opus Pocus.  However there is one question we need to also address: do kids actually like classical music?  

We know that some kids do, having been introduced to this music through learning an instrument, going to concerts, listening at home and so on.  But all of them..?  Well here’s a bold claim: ALL KIDS DEFINITELY LOVE CLASSICAL MUSIC!  It’s even printed in bold so it must be true…

How do we know this?  Well it’s easy to demonstrate: just play them the main theme from Star Wars or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and you always get an excited and delighted response.  I’ve done this hundreds of times in primary schools and it never fails.  In fact I’ve never seen a child dislike these epic orchestral scores and brilliant tunes!

Okay but is this definitely classical music or just some poor imitation?  I’m sure there are some classical snobs out there who would argue that these film scores don’t qualify as real classical music for some reason, but I honestly can’t see why this is the case. The music of John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Ennio Morricone is as beautiful, powerful and deeply moving as a classic opera or ballet score (which is probably their nearest equivalent of the traditional classical music genres) and indeed unquestionably established classical composers such as Shostakovitch, Prokofiev and Korngold themselves wrote film scores (for The GadflyAlexander Nevsky and Robin Hood being my favourite respectively!).

So I think that’s settled!  Great film scores qualify as real classical music, and kids love them… so yes kids love classical music – phew!     

Next question: why do kids love the classical music they hear as part of film scores like Star Wars and Harry Potter etc?  Sure, the music is great in itself but I would suggest the key thing here is how it is presented: as part of a story.  Humans LOVE stories, whether it’s a bit of local gossip or the multi-billion dollar film industry, we humans can’t get enough of them: I would suggest because they are key to our evolution as a social animal, providing so much ‘useful information’ about how to survive and thrive, or indeed warnings of how to avoid the opposite of this!

So the connection this music has to a story that the child is captivated by – and the associated emotions they experience – I would suggest is why children are so captivated by the classical music score too.  It certainly helps too that the story is presented as images alongside the audio. 

And I think that’s an important thing to remember too when trying to introduce a child to classical music.  It’s not always easy to retain their attention with an entirely audio experience but something with images can really help, which I think is the genius of Disney’s Fantasia: there were only images with the classical music, no voices (pretty much), but it was a brilliant piece of storytelling and very successful in introducing a generation to classical music, as many adults will testify now.  So it’s worth exploring both audio and audiovisual stories to help children discover this music – don’t just give up if they’re not in the right mood for just listening to something!

But of course, depending on a child’s mood, just listening might be perfect: bedtime, long journeys or just some screen downtime spring to mind.  We all need a bit of eye-resting audio time: think podcasts with a nice cup of tea… Not that I’m advocating giving children tea, but yes I am definitely advocating helping them discover the magic of classical music!”

Matt Parry, Creator of The Opus Pocus  


The first release from The Opus Pocus is out now: 1001 Arabian Nights starring Brian Blessed & Rory Bremner:  www.TheOpusPocus.com



Additional images,

Jonas mohamadi and Mpumelelo Macu

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