This week marks the start of a four part series I’m calling the “Rock your Socks” weeks. Each week, I’ll be sharing a little bit of information about four composers in history that you probably didn’t know about and you’ll wish you heard about earlier! Following the four weeks of composers, I’ll be moving on to different topics. Throughout the course of this blog, I’ll occasionally throw in another four-week composer series, so stay tuned to get your healthy dose of music history!
This week, I’m highlighting a composer I didn’t know about as a kid and have grown to absolutely love as an adult. Her name was Amy Beach.
Born in New Hampshire in 1867, Amy Marcy Cheney was born in a unique time for music. Romantic music was at its peak, but a new era was just around the corner. Much of her original compositions reflect the beautiful juxtaposition of romanticism and modern music. While she was not recognized for it publically at the time, Amy could now be considered a key player in ushering in the modern era of music.
Born a prodigy, Amy quickly developed an impressive track record of musical feats. Some of her most impressive include having at least forty vocal pieces memorized by the age of one, harmonizing those melodies with her voice by the age of two, and began composing music shortly after beginning her classical training on the piano. One account even explains how during a summer with her grandfather, (who did not own a piano) she composed three fully-developed waltzes, only to play them when she returned home in the fall.
It’s worth noting that male musical prodigies born in the United States who had the money, (and Amy’s family were quite wealthy) were often sent to Europe for classical music training. Because she was a woman, Amy was not afforded this opportunity and had to make due with tutors at home and her own thirst for musical knowledge. Despite the challenges of the time and the discouragement she received due to her gender, (a little later in life, her husband had a condition for their marriage that she could no longer perform or teach the piano) Amy went on to become the first American woman to compose a symphony, was the first woman in history to publically compose for choral music, and altogether composed approximately 300 original works. Some of her most widely-known include Gaelic Symphony, Theme and Variations for flute and string quartets, and Cabildo.
Following her husband’s death, Amy finally had the chance to tour Europe for two years performing hers and other renowned works, but had to return to the United States due to the onset of World War I.
Music History in Lessons and at Home
As part of music lessons, I obtained a great stack of composer flashcards from www.classicsforkids.com, (check out the video description on my media page). When I bring the flashcards to lessons, I lay them out and let the students choose who they want to learn about. I have no idea why, but almost all twenty of my current students have chosen Amy Beach within their first two choices. And she’s not even the only woman composer in the stack. I guess she’s just awesome that way.
I have believed for a long time that early exposure to classical music has a hugely beneficial effect on the kids of today, (and even more so when they get this exposure at home, not just once a week during lessons). Why not throw in a little information along with it? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a little tidbit or two about the composer of a song you happen to have playing in the house.
A Challenge for Parents
Here’s my challenge for the next four weeks: each week, after reading my snippet about the highlighted composer, find some time to have one of their pieces playing in your home. At some point while the music is playing, mention something interesting about the composer, such as: “Hey, did you know that the person who wrote this wrote over 300 other songs? She was pretty cool.” A little bit of musical brainwashing, if you will;)
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Join me next week for another great composer who will rock your socks!