I’m going through a box of clippings I’ve saved over the years. I come to writings on why we need to teach art and music to our children, to ourselves, and how to do it.
Yo-Yo Ma is now 64 so perhaps these words are 30 years old.
When he was 34, the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma, wrote:
I’d like to see a program where music is not separated from history, from literature, from what generally went on in society. Let’s look at Stalin and Shostakovich. What did freedom mean to a composer then? One day, Shostakovich’s neighbor disappeared. His music is full of descriptions of life around him: the pieces have specific meaning. Music is a form of storytelling, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like stories. We should be making those connections. Music can help in linguistics and math. If you’re a composer, you’re always thinking numbers, making up patterns. There’s a linkage there. Kids talk about God, about what happens when you die. A piece of music may be a perfect way to deal with death. There are so many ways of interweaving things. Music is a part of our lives – of our movies, television, supermarkets. What I’m advocating is to become more imaginative and sensitive to the world around us.
The great violinist Itzhak Perlman wrote when he was 45:
I would use as many video examples as possible, to bring music to a realistic level. If you teach the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, you say, “Let me tell you about this guy Mozart. He had no money to pay rent.” Make them human, not idols; not objects but people with feelings and problems. Most of them weren’t appreciated. Read letters of these guys and their music takes on a whole new meaning. “When Mozart was 12 he wrote this piece. And let me read you this letter he wrote to his sister, what was going on at that time.” There’s an enormous number of anecdotes – use them. The younger the child, the more impression it makes. And you need some sort of support at home. You listen to music, you talk about it at home. It’s contagious.
Artist Jenny Holzer at 40 writes:
It’s clear that children are already thinking about big topics. It’s not appropriate for them only to draw suns with lines radiating from them and flowers as big as houses. They’re thinking about the bomb, the homeless people with AIDS, and it’s right to deal with these issues through making art. The problems are new to children, the experience is especially raw. One thing that art-making can do is to prepare children for living. They can look at what’s around them and see what scares them the most and what’s most wonderful. After portraying the worst, maybe they can cure it, make their own utopias. Art gives you absolute freedom to tell the truth and to improve your reality. When you make art and get it right – and this may happen only 2 percent of the time – you are in a joyous, altered state. It’s worth it for those milliseconds. Being critical, analytic, alert and rapturous should be taught at a very early age. Look hard at what’s there. Expose it and change it.