Naomi Lewin Answers Questions About Classics For Kids
How did Classics for Kids get started?90.9 WGUC started Classics for Kids in 1998 to help fulfill the radio station’s mission of bringing classical music to new generations. The show started to catch on quickly with teachers, parents and caregivers. More schools had begun to drop classical music from the curriculum or rely on regular classroom teachers to work it in, with little or no guidance. Classics For Kids was there to fill the gap. Over the years, Classics for Kids has grown from a radio show with educational materials to a podcast/radio show with a multimedia website.
What is your background?I majored in music in college and was a student teacher in New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut. They used the Kodály Method of music education. That was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying because the kids in my classes had been sight-singing with Kodály solfège (do, re, mi, fa, etc.) and hand signs (think Close Encounters of the Third Kind) since Kindergarten, but I was just learning how to do it. I lived in constant fear that the fourth-grade daughter of one of my music professors, who was really, really good, would see right through me! Instead of becoming a music teacher, I followed another love and got a master’s degree in voice. I pursued a career in opera, but I wasn’t making a living at it. I decided to become a classical music announcer on the radio. The only things I knew about radio at the time were (a) I’d liked it ever since I was a little girl, and (b) my tiny New York apartment had more radios than it had rooms. My first announcing job took me to WKYU in Bowling Green, Kentucky; then, I moved to WGUC in Cincinnati; and I finished my on-air career at WQXR in New York. About a month after I got to WGUC, they asked me to do a show called Classics for Kids – but no one told me how, so I made it up as I went along.
So, how did you create the show?Classics for Kids started out featuring a different composer each month and focusing on a particular piece by that composer. Every month, there would be a biography show about the composer and other shows that relate to the music. Eventually, we spotlighted other composers, including women and Spanish/Latin American composers. I do a lot of research for each show, then write a script, and choose all the music. These days, you can log onto libraries any time, from anywhere, and find information. But when I started working on Classics for Kids, I went to the public library each month and brought home a big stack of books. Today, you can find just about any music you want on the Internet, but back then, I could only use music that had been commercially recorded. That meant there was much less music available, especially by women, people of color and contemporary composers. I’m constantly reworking and refining the script to squeeze everything I want to say into six minutes. Then, I record the script. Because there’s only time for about 15-20 seconds of any piece of music, I also narrow down which sections of compositions I will use. For the first few years, Tim Lanter was the audio engineer who mixed the shows on the computer, combining my voice tracks with music excerpts. Now, I do all the mixing myself.
How do you make Classics for Kids interesting to listeners of ALL ages?I have never talked down to kids – not as a teacher camp counselor and not when I meet them on the street. I just try to engage kids on a level that interests them. Classics for Kids was initially targeted to grades K-5 but we hear from people of all ages about how much they enjoy the program. My parents got me hooked on radio, so my aim was always to create a show that kids, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents could enjoy together. To do that, I try to make the composers as human as possible and relate events in their lives to things we can all understand. I define all the musical terms as succinctly as possible and weave those definitions into the narration. It’s also important to keep the storyline and the music moving, especially since the program is only six minutes long. Very early on, I used my nieces, who were not particularly classical-music oriented, as a “beta” test group. If one of them made a face and said, “It sounds like you’re trying to teach us something,” that show went back to the drawing board. And, of course, jokes are always good.
Are there shows that you’ve particularly enjoyed putting together?I had a lot of fun with the programs about classical music that imitates animals and inanimate objects. I enjoyed creating the show Women in History and Classical Music and English Composers Who Loved Folk Songs because I love folk songs so much. Another favorite illustrates how the “Farandole” from Georges Bizet’s Arlésienne Suite makes it really easy to hear the harmonic textures monophony, homophony, and polyphony. Other shows I enjoy point out, step by step, what’s going on in a piece of music, like the William Tell Overture show in the Rossini month, the What’s a Rondo? show in Mozart month (which actually uses a rondo from Haydn’s Symphony #61 as an illustration), or taking a sleigh ride with the “Troika” from Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije Suite. There’s also a fantastic show with Denyce Graves talking about what it’s like to be an opera singer and how she came to discover classical music. And, of course, the Halloween shows.
How do you draw in people who might not think classical music is for them?Good tunes and good stories. A great melody is a great melody, whether by Beethoven, the Beatles, or Beyoncé. The same goes for stories. Many kids can relate to Aaron Copland being teased by other kids for something they didn’t think was “cool” or Edvard Grieg’s inventive way of getting out of class. I read multiple biographies for each composer to find the best stories and go through tons of music to find the right snippets to use.
Do you get feedback from listeners?Yes! We hear from people all over the world – kids, teachers, parents … and grown-ups who don’t have kids but are still fans.
Letters From Grown-Ups:
Question: Is there or was there such an instrument called a Seusaphone?
Answer from Classics for Kids: It’s the Sousaphone, named for and invented by John Phillip Sousa.
Reply: Thank you so much – this resolves a hot topic at our supper table – the Dr. Seuss mistake was my mistake – my son at 8 was correct – this proves a point to the know-it-alls in the family.
I haven’t laughed so hard listening to the radio as I did this morning, listening to this week’s edition of Classics for Kids. That was when you were talking about “Col. Bogey’s March” by Kenneth Alford, and you advised kids to ask their parents about “The Comet Song!” Oh, I remember that song (though not where I learned it – from a friend perhaps) and singing it enthusiastically. After we’d sung the verse about “turning green,” we would substitute colors and make up new rhymes on the spot. Great fun, it was. I look forward to sharing this one with my kids!
From India: A fantastic site. I’m a big fan of western classical music. Please keep me informed. Great job.
First of all, ALOHA for your great show. (Can you guess where I live?) A friend of mine told me about your website, and even though I am an adult, I love to learn about all the composers and their music.
Thank you for this great weekly program. We look forward to your show every week. Father of two fans, and a fan myself.
Letters From Kids:
I love Classics for Kids. I liked it so much that I got a violin, and I am learning how to play!!!!!!!!
My favorite part about Classics for Kids is that you get to hear the music. I really like the Brandenburg Concertos. Thank you.
I listen to Classics for Kids on the Internet. I found out about it from a friend. I am a homeschooler and I listen for part of my schoolwork. I like the music.
I just LOVE classicsforkids.com. It really helps me write great Music Reports! My teacher loves it too! She tells all the kids to use it! Thanks a lot!
Can you teach me how to get an A+ on my Recorder test?