Composer Study-Opal Wheeler books

Charlotte Mason recommends studying composers from the period you are studying in History. There are many links on the internet for midi or mp3 files and the library has many CDs you can check out for free. You will find your kids are able to relate more to the composer they study when they learn a little something about their life. Perhaps you would like to try the Opal Wheeler books and CDs for younger and elementary aged children. Color Me Classics is another option. The most important thing is to remember not to overwhelm your child with too much background information on the composer. Perhaps reading a story from the composer’s childhood days, like the Opal Wheeler books would be enjoyable for your kids. Charlotte Mason recommends studying one composer for several weeks and playing songs long enough for your child to be able to recognize them. Give your child the opportunity to really appreciate the music and enjoy it at least once a week. We bought ours in Stallings, NC at Growing Scholars. However, here is a pic if you would like to see the books from Christian Book Enjoy your composer study!

Delight in Music Appreciation by Tina Fillmer

Charlotte Mason implemented music appreciation in the P.N.E.U. around 1897 after she heard that Mrs. Howard Glover played to her little child the best music that she found to be interesting. “She (Charlotte Mason) realized that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well.” CM Vol.6 p.217.

Charlotte Mason implemented music appreciation in the P.N.E.U. around 1897 after she heard that Mrs. Howard Glover played to her little child the best music that she found to be interesting. “She (Charlotte Mason) realized that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well.” CM Vol.6 p.217.

When I first began educating my children, my mindset was 180 degrees from Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. The thought of my children experiencing joy in their educational endeavors did not cross my mind. As a child in school, I was taught to be focused on information and passing the test. Fortunately, I have experienced a huge paradigm shift in my way of thinking, thanks to Charlotte Mason. Ms. Mason stated “The question is not, -how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education – but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” CM Vol.3, pgs.170-171. 

As I ponder Charlotte Mason’s writings, my ears perk up when I come across examples that complement her ideas. In a recent sermon, Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Church in NY, explained a concept that connected so well with Ms. Mason’s approach to education.
“When I was in college, I took a music appreciation course, and I had to listen to a lot of Mozart because it was on the test. I had to be able to identify Mozart for the test, so I started listening to Mozart to get a passing grade on the test…so I could get my degree…so I could get out and get a good job. I listened to Mozart, in other words, to make money. But today my wife and I will spend a lot of money just to listen to Mozart. What happened? Why do we listen to Mozart now? To get a good grade? No, I’m not in the class. So people will think I’m cultured? No, no one sees me listening to Mozart. Well, why do you listen to Mozart? You could say “I don’t know.” But what that means is that it’s beautiful. It used to be that listening to Mozart was useful, but now it’s beautiful, and beautiful means it’s satisfying in and of itself. It’s attractive. It fulfills in and of itself. It’s not a means to an end. You don’t do it because it will get you something else. It’s what you want. It’s one of the things that gives you meaning in life.” And to relate his point to things above, he adds, “A person with a new heart stops obeying God just because he has to, or because it gets you somewhere else, but begins to aesthetically find God beautiful in and of who He is in Himself. Just to be near him; just to delight in him.” I find this explanation to be profound. What a beautiful picture of how we should appreciate our Father in heaven. And what a beautiful illustration of music appreciation or education in general. We do not become educated just for the sake of “getting something.” We become educated because God created beauty, there are ideas to be pondered, delight to be found, and He wants us to fall more in love with Him as we learn about the world in which we live.  Music as a part of His creation is meant to be listened to and to be enjoyed. It is a form of worship, and it is a gift from above. Our children will naturally respond to music with interest if we give them the opportunity.

 I lead a group of children, ages 9-12, in music study in a small Charlotte Mason co-op in Charlotte, NC. As I prepare for class, I think about how my children may find joy in forming a relationship with the composer and in listening to his compositions. Felix Mendelssohn has been the composer for this semester’s study. Here is a glimpse into our year:

 *Mendelssohn’s childhood story from Boyhoods of Great Composers by Catherine Gough in addition to stories of his adulthood from living books were read aloud to our children. They very willingly took turns narrating and seemed interested during the process.

 *As a child, Mendelssohn and his siblings acted out Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in their back yard. At the age of 16, he composed an octet for this play which was entitled “A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture.” You can hear the fairies dancing in the music. How did the children know about the fairies? We studied Shakespeare’s play! It didn’t take them long to determine what they were hearing in this opening song.

 *They also recognized the triple nuptuals of Theseus and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena when they discovered that Mendelssohn wrote “Wedding March” for Shakespeare’s play.

 *Mendelssohn toured a cathedral-like cave in the Hebrides Island of Scotland and was inspired to write the “Hebrides Overture,” a.k.a. “Fingal’s Cave.” The children could hear the sounds of waves approaching the cave in this musical piece. We also located the geographical area and observed pictures of this cave.

 *While listening to his “Violin Concerto in E Minor,” each child recorded what he or she thought about during this rapidly played piece. Their slips of paper were placed into a hat, and we laughed as we guessed what each child wrote: cleaning, swirling in a field, flying butterflies, etc.

 *We observed a young child playing Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” on her piano which was featured on YouTube. Free printed internet music of this song was given to the students so they could play it on their pianos at home if they so desired.

 *We listened to the first song of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. We learned that the four beginning chords represented Elijah’s words “And this is the Word of the Lord” which he stated before prophesying a time of drought for the unrepentant Israelites. It was challenging to identify the characters (Elijah, the widow, etc.) based upon the four vocal ranges (bass, tenor, alto, and soprano) included in the song.

 *And, last but not least, we think of Mendelssohn when we hear “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” because he composed the music to this highly recognizable Christmas hymn written by Charles Wesley 100 years earlier.

 Although our children did in fact have a have a written narration exam at the end of the semester, their motivation was not to “pass the test.” They delighted in getting to know this man of utmost character and enjoyed listening to his sensational compositions. Their behavior showed that they did, in fact, care about what was being placed before them. Ms. Mason was right, and for that, I am thankful.

Music Appreciation


art by Jessie Willcox Smith

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,…honest,…just,…pure,…lovely…of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Philippians 4:8

At that time I was playing to my little child much of the best music in which I was interested, and Miss Mason happened to hear of what I was doing. She realised [sic] that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well…Musical Appreciation had no more to do with playing an instrument than acting had to do with as appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with enjoyment of pictures…if they are taken at an early age it is astonishing how children who appear to be without ear, develop it and are able to enjoy listening to music with understanding.

Mrs. Howard Glover, Ambleside Conference of the Parents’ Union 1922, as quoted in Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, pages 217-218

The fine arts find their origin in God, the Creator of language, color and music. Fine arts reveals within us an intrinsic need for beauty that is a part of God’s image stamped on our being – an attempt to recover a glimmer of what was lost in the fall…In the same way that narration trains your children to hear what an author is saying through a book, you can also train your children to hear what an artist, musician or poet is “saying’ through a creative work. In the process, you can train their appetites to hunger after that which is truly “fine” and beautiful, rather than just common or commercial. Fine arts study sharpens the ability to distinguish between mediocrity and a masterpiece.
God doesn’t want us only avoiding the ungodly things; he also doesn’t want us to let mediocrity crowd out excellence in our minds. He wants us to train our appetites for beauty and excellence.
Be careful even with “Contemporary Christian” or “Gospel Rock.” The messages are good, but the medium may create an undesired appetite for undesirable music. Music can be a powerful tool for discipleship (Col. 3:16), but you must use it wisely.

Clay and Sally Clarkson, Educating the WholeHearted Child: A Handbook for Christian Home Education, pages 112, 113, 33


Living Books and Resources for Classical Music Appreciation:

  • has schedules for composer and hymn studies.
  • Music Masters CD series has bios and music. The ones we’ve listened to are appropriate for all ages. The one on Bach proclaims his devotion to Christ!
  • Classical Kids CD series are creative and entertaining, but tend to feature fictional children with bad attitudes.
  • Biographies by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher. These are excellent stories that focus on the composer’s childhood. Being republished by Book Peedler, with CDs of the music mentioned in the books. These authors believed in sheltering children from the moral failings of their subjects.
  • The Gift of Music: Great Composers & Their Influence by Jane Stuart Smith & Betty Carlson. My favorite book on music because it explores the spiritual lives and worldviews of the composers and is very inspiring! Great for teens and as a parent/teacher reference.
  •  The Bookshelf for Boys & Girls: Vol. 6, The Story of Art & Music by Elizabeth Gutman (Art) & Ruth Goode (Music). Interesting narrative of the history of music; good to use along with history studies.
  • Childcraft, vol. 13 Art & Music (1949) or vol. 11 Music for the Family (1954-1961) has photos of instruments and brief stories of composers.
  • Peter and the Wolf, Let’s Meet the Orchestra, Carnival of the Animals, etc. are recordings that introduce children to instruments.


Living Books and Resources for Hymn Study:

  • Psalters and hymnals show up at library sales and are wonderful for family worship.
  • Great Christian Hymn Writers by Jane Stuart Smith & Betty Carlson has brief bios. on 49 hymn authors who lived from 1090 – 1929.
  • Hymns for a Kid’s Heart Series by Wolgemuth & Tada, book with CD has brief biographies, devotionals, and music for all ages.



  • Teach Them the Faith by Dan and Karen Vitco (CMeLearn members:-)). The Westminster Catechism for Young Children beautifully set to music.
  • Hide ‘em in Your Heart Bible Memory Melodies with Steve Green. Bible verses set to music.
  • Wee Sing series of wholesome songs includes America (patriotic), Around the World, Bible Songs, Sing-Alongs (campfire songs), Nursery Rhymes & Lullabies.
  • History Alive Through Music: The Songs & Stories Behind Them series by Diana Waring, booklets with tapes cover years 1750-1890 in America.
  • Music and books by homeschooling father Michael Card provide much food for thought as his work tends to be meditations on Scripture.


Performing Arts:

  • Try reading the story and listening to the music before attending a live performance or watching a video (PBS’ Great Performances series, Public Library, rentals)
  • Wingate Univ. has symphony and choral concerts as well as musicals, operas, children’s drama, and ballets; some free! 
  • The Random House Book of Stories from the Ballet by Geraldine McCaughrean, beautifully illustrated. There are similar books that cover ballets that are good for all ages such as Swan Lake, Coppelia, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty (characters from many fairy tales come to the wedding at the end).
  • Milton Cross’ Complete Stories of the Great Operas. There are probably similar guides. A good starting place is Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck which is available on DVD from the Metropolitan Opera and is well done; the story is much improved over the fairy tale!
  • The Sound of Music is a wonderful musical for families, whether seen live or on film.

Compiled by Beth S., November 2006