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    Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 2, Part 1}

    April 12, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Music, along with art, is the emblematic dispensable subject of our age. I live in California {as if you didn’t know}, the State with the Constant Budget Crisis. Whenever a person with a bit of sense suggests that maybe we should cut some spending and try something revolutionary–such as living within our means as decent people do–the teacher’s union cries foul and declares that children will have no art and no music.

    Boo hoo.

    Music costs money {so the thinking goes} and, considering our culture’s utilitarian view of education, there is no point to teaching music because it isn’t going to earn these kids any money.

    Superstars are few and far between, and let’s face it: their parents tend to pay for private lessons anyhow.

    As home educators, we have the opportunity to live outside of this sort of ridiculousness, and yet, do we? Do we really?

    My own approach to educating my children didn’t include music at the outset. A year or two after we started, I did finally add in the Ambleside suggestions of singing hymns and folk songs. We did this during Circle Time {still do}, but it often took us forever to memorize them because I didn’t have us singing every day, and if we were running behind, or I had a fussy newborn, singing was the first thing I cut.

    Along with art picture study, of course.

    According to Taylor, I had it all backwards.

    These days, we sing daily. I incorporate songs into our memory work, which is done daily. We may sing up to three hymns or folk songs on a given day {I am admittedly weak on folk songs–we sing mostly hymns}. I still dispense with art study more than I ought, but the pictures we study now have a permanent home on the walls by our dining table, that we might discuss them whenever we like.

    And so it goes: we change as we learn. {This is why Dr. Grant says that education is a form of repentance.}

    I don’t pretend to totally understand the Greek conception of music and its importance. It is so much deeper and wider than our own that, like a lot of thing Greek, it feels beyond my ability to comprehend.

    But I did enjoy some interesting thoughts about music that I’ll share. {The first time I read this chapter, I was distracted by the rock music comments. I may have blogged about it, and if I can find the post, I’ll rerun it this week.}

    Here are some quotes to think about:

    Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationWe have to frequently remind ourselves in our utilitarian age that poetry, and all art, for the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, was considered a means of real and valuable knowledge, a knowledge of the permanent things. “Art has a limitless power of converting the human soul–a power which the Greeks called psychagogia. For art possesses the two essentials of educational influence–universal significance and immediate appeal. By uniting these two methods of influencing the mind, it surpasses both philosophical thought and actual life.”

    {In the second half of that, Taylor is quoting Werner Jaeger.}

    What I found interesting was that in teaching music at young ages, he wasn’t suggesting formal music lessons:

    …this would be the difference, for the beginner, between studying music–theory, harmony, rhythm–and actually doing music, by singing and dancing, to become, in a sense, music itself.

    We typically see two kinds of folks in our culture. One type skips music altogether, and if their children learn anything about it at all, they learn it when they are in high school and picking a guitar with their buddies. They rarely learn any of the technical aspects. The other type swings the pendulum far in the other direction. They commence with formal lessons as toddlers, drilling the technical aspects of the art at extremely young ages. Once again, rising above the fray, is Charlotte Mason, encouraging us to sing–and perhaps even dance–with our children from the very beginning of their education, while saving more formal instruction for around eight or ten years of age.

    The idea is not that we should dispose of technical knowledge, which really does require hard work and determination on the part of the student. Rather, it is that this ought to be preceded by a number of years experiencing music poetically–making music with their parents and brothers and sisters and church. If they play an instrument at all, it is in an attempt to imitate what they have seen others do.

    And so it goes.

    All of the educational experiences detailed in The Republic for the child–songs, poetry, music, gymnastic–are meant to awaken and refine a sympathetic knowledge of the reality of the True, Good, and Beautiful, by placing the child inside the experience of those transcendentals as they are contained in these arts and sensory experiences.

    To Greeks, music was huge. When a child began to understand harmony, he was seen as beginning to understand peace and justice, for harmony was a picture of that. We have all experienced the angst which attends an unresolved chord. The Greek knew that this was emblematic of life–that tension demands resolution. The child’s musical education was a “leading of the soul”:

    Not only does the child imitate what is presented to his imagination, but the fundamentals of music, rhythm, and melody imitate the virtues of just anger, gentleness, courage, and temperance that, under the physical power of music acting directly on the senses, takes these admittedly difficult and complex concepts and reverberates them throughout the body and mind as a kind of real experience of the concept.

    Today, we’ll hear Christians discussing the contents of the lyrics of a song, but rarely does anyone admit that the fundamentals imitate the virtues or, even worse, that they have the ability to imitate the vices. I’d suggest that the pagan Plato was pickier about music than the average Christian, and that is not meant as a compliment to Christians.

    To bring this full circle {sort of}, midway through the chapter, Taylor writes:

    To summarize: an education with the foregoing in mind, an education for beginners, would be poetic, which means, to draw heavily on direct and vicarious experience that engages and awakens the senses; for example, gymnastic, poetry, music.

    Modern preschools deal in perversions of these things, for the most part. If we put gymnastic, poetry, and music together, what we have is basically singing and dancing. Whereas the ancients had a high respect for the child, and therefore taught the child elevating songs–the songs of his fathers–most preschools teach silly rhymes with silly motions, songs they will quickly outgrow.

    Now, children will make up their own silly songs, that is for sure. But I have been consistently amazed over the years at the ability and desire of very young children to know the songs of their people. They love hymns. They adore Celtic and American folk music. They savor words that are fit for humans of all ages.

    Again, I see the wisdom of Charlotte Mason. I have written about this over the years, but while the modern preschool is all shapes and gaudy colors, Charlotte took the children to the countryside in order to become intimate with nature. The intimacy included hours of vigorous play {gymnastic, anyone?}. She filled their little souls up with beautiful poetry and Psalms and parables {poetry}. She encouraged them to sing the songs of their church and their land {music}. This is what she suggested mothers or governesses do with very young children, and this is much of what she did with children under the age of nine or ten who attended her schools.

    This is the life of the beginner. I think I am slowly realizing that when life gets a little crazy, and something needs to be cut, I ought to cut math or reading lessons or cursive, or what have you, and make singing, poetry, and running in the wind my priorities for now, for we are still living the life of the beginner. We are still laying the poetic foundation upon which we will build the more technical knowledge at a later date.

    Read More:
    -Read more book club posts over at Mystie’s blog
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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Mystie, I grew up with a mother who played classical music in our home simply because she noticed it had a calming effect on her children. I noticed the same thing when E. was still an infant. He was crying and I couldn’t seem to do anything to pacify him, and I put on an opera CD to calm me down and he got very quiet.

    I love the idea of singing church music in harmony, and definitely see how it could be symbolic of Christian unity. One of my eventual goals is to train my children to sing in harmony. I was in a black gospel choir once (one of the only white people in it) and the harmony I learned there was truly amazing.

    Silvia, I really think Christians are one of the last bastions of music in this country. I am always amazed to learn that other families don’t sing together–but then I remember that if one isn’t attending some sort of worship or other communal event, there is nothing to practice for.

    CMintheCity, I like that: music, art, RECESS. πŸ™‚

    Willa, I love your word choice here: “auditory clutter.” I feel that way a lot because I have very sensitive ears. I like quiet and I often tell Si I feel like an old woman, like I am too old for my own church–I keep wanting them to just turn down the volume. My ears hurt. πŸ™‚ But culturally we have lots of music and yet we are not intentional about it at all.

  • Reply Willa April 13, 2011 at 5:08 am

    I am glad you posted on the music aspect of the chapter. Lots to think about.

    Our society certainly seems to do everything it can to ruin music and musical learning. Personally I think I hate the twaddle most — the preschool music, the “worship” music of so many churches, and the music playing in so many stores and restaurants. It becomes a kind of auditory clutter or pollution.

  • Reply Charlotte Mason in the City April 13, 2011 at 2:22 am

    The way I see it, the schools cut the very things that make life worth living – recess, music, art. Makes me sad to think of kids growing up without these things in their everyday lives.

  • Reply Silvia April 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Brandy, your post gave me so much comfort and moved me too and inspired me to keep up the music, dancing, and to enhance the hymns and time we devote to this instead of cutting it.
    I do agree with the preschool songs. I was the one singing adubida, adubida, adubi da da, or something like that. And this is one of the reasons why I can’t stand the library program.
    Last week in Bible class one of my students who goes to one of this prek places came with that song and it just hurt me to see the watering down in action, when this girl has a music ear so privileged and is able to do the high voice in any song you throw at her by intuition. She is a five year old “natural opera singer”, she has a desire for those words…
    Yes, you again have inspired. And true, the rock and roll part was also too appealing to delve on.
    You and Mystie are so focused and well behaved. My post is a mess, I am a bit embarrassed by my ADD style, ha ha ha.
    As for the hymns, we believe we are commanded to make music with our hearts and keep it a Capella. Singing is a part of worship we ALL have to do. Our children, from very young, love singing and memorize many songs from singing. I learn much from the songs too.
    I find it funky and strange that when we go to the bowling or skating with the homeschooling group they put this Christian rock for us. It is the fast food of the music, it has no substance and I believe it to be wrong and not sanctioned by God at worship.

  • Reply Mystie April 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I was going to ask what one *should* cut when the day goes roughly, but there you have it already. My problem is I tend to cut the picture study, the singing, the phonics, the handwriting, and the spelling. πŸ™‚

    Even playing classical music haphazardly has had noticeable affect on my children’s taste.

    I heard awhile back the idea that church music should be music sung in harmony, because harmony is symbolic of how church life is supposed to be — differing roles working together, resolving tension and creating beauty that has more depth than music sung with melody only. I latched right onto that as a justification for my dislike of contemporary worship music, especially when it takes over and resets hymns to contemporary styles, which really only sound good with a “worship team” and a loud sound system. It is music for people who can’t sing. And as a crutch for such congregations, I don’t begrudge them. However, being in a congregation that sings in harmony, where it is the congregation as a whole carrying the momentum and not the piano or the one man up front leading is, I think, ideal. Every couple years voices rise up in our church that want to make our music more “hip,” and I feel like a two-year-old clutching the hymnal and making ugly faces and telling them to stop messing with our good thing and our heritage. πŸ™‚ It is *not* boring.

    One of the main reasons we sing during Circle Time is so that our children know the hymns our church sings and can participate in worship. It is wonderful to hear the little children’s voices scattered throughout the sanctuary, rising to “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

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