Music Appreciation in the 21st Century

Music Appreciation in the 21st Century

In my previous article I shared some reflections and conclusions from my research into music appreciation in the PNEU. Many of you do not need to be convinced to include music appreciation using Miss Mason’s methods. Instead your question is, “What do I do now?” How can we apply what we have learned from the PNEU music programmes and Parents’ Review articles to the 21st Century? Agnes Drury perhaps said it best:

The problem which presents itself to us teachers is: How am I to teach music? It may therefore be of practical use to us to consider the principles by which we are guided. Those of you who have had special training, and are familiar with other instruments than the piano, must excuse me for taking for granted that the majority, like myself, have no special qualifications for the task. (Drury, 1905, p. 5)

I find myself feeling an affinity with Miss Drury. I don’t pretend to possess her level of understanding and competency with Miss Mason’s methods, but I can sympathize with asking the question, “How am I to teach music?”… without any special qualifications. This is when I’m supposed to tell you what to do in your own homes. However, there are many people in the Charlotte Mason community who are much more qualified than I am to advise you concerning music education. Even so, I hope that if you are informed by the results of my research and the principles I’ve discovered, you will feel more confident carrying out music appreciation, whether you choose to do it all yourself or utilize the resources and experience of others. It is important to understand that my recommendations are not based on my own expertise. Rather, my recommendations are based on conclusions I drew from reading the programmes and various articles in the Parents’ Review written to help PNEU teachers implement music appreciation. Some items, even if not explicitly stated, seemed to be vital due to the consistency of their inclusion by all or most of the music programme authors.

However, we can place too much emphasis on copying the practices (and resources) of the PNEU and end up missing the important principles behind it. Perhaps more important than what they were doing is why they were doing it. We don’t want to miss the intent and spirit of music appreciation—teaching our students to listen with understanding.

Two years after Mrs. Glover read her paper on “Our Relations with Music and Art” at the PNEU conference, an article on “The Place of Music in Education” by Frederick Niecks appeared in the Parents’ Review. Niecks was a German musician, composer, author, and teacher. He wrote:

[W]e cannot but admit that the mere enumeration of the means at the disposal of the composer presents a convincing case of at least the probably expressive power of music.

Now, if music is expressive, it must be capable of communicating something. And if it can communicate something, it must be capable of exercising a moral influence. Let us suppose it can do no more than express nobility and vulgarity. Then if we make our children conversant with noble music, we shall cultivate their nobility; and if we make them conversant with vulgar music, we shall cultivate their vulgarity. But this is only one example. Music can do infinitely more. And now, what follows if music can exercise an influence on the character and the manners of the cultivator? This: that it deserves and ought to be taught in a way different from that in which it has hitherto been usually taught, and deserves and ought to have assigned to it a more important position in education than it can now boast of. (Niecks, 1904, p. 585)

He was calling for a change in music education and it seems the PNEU answered his call, introducing musical appreciation into the PUS programmes in 1905 to teach all children, not just the musical ones, to understand what composers were communicating with their music.

Modern Trends

We should not dismiss out of hand new developments and discoveries in education regarding music and its effect on children just because the PNEU didn’t mention them. After all, Charlotte Mason herself kept up with recent trends, adopting elements that aligned with her philosophy, while rejecting those that didn’t:

Finally we should remember that Charlotte Mason was a progressive thinker who devoted her life to children, and who believed that to be adequate, a method of education should ‘touch at all points the living thought of the age’. Therefore a P.N.E.U. School should be alive to modern trends in education and the developments in psychology that affect the well-being of young people. (Till, 1965, p. 37)

I became curious what music appreciation classes looked like in schools over the years, both in the United States and England. It seems the PNEU itself was ahead of its time when Charlotte Mason saw the value of music appreciation and started including it in its school programmes in 1905 along with traditional instrumental instruction. Some of the Parents’ Review articles on music included comments that led me to draw this conclusion. Others stated it more explicitly.

In Niecks’s 1904 article, he lamented the current state of music education:

But allow me to point out that I merely said that music is capable of being made a powerful factor in education. So far from asserting that it actually is a powerful factor, I ruefully confess that it is as good as no factor at all. This, however, is not the fault of music, but of teachers and parents, and more the fault of parents than of the teachers. The teachers too often don’t know how and what to teach, and the parents as a rule won’t have their children taught rationally and profitably—they insist on drill and discourage education. … What does the usual music teaching do? It does not cultivate the ear, it does not refine the taste and manners, and it does not improve the morals. … Unless you call the memorising of dates history, and the memorising of the names of towns, rivers, mountains, capes, and seas, geography, you cannot call the customary unmusical drill, music teaching. (Niecks, 1904, pp. 581-582)

Then in 1917, Mrs. Glover’s article, “Music in the Nursery,” mentioned the shift in music education trends:

This slight record of a child’s musical training aroused much interest, but it was received with scepticism by those who had not realized the possibility of training the ear and providing an intelligent musical atmosphere from the earliest nursery days. Much water had flowed under the bridge since then, and it is interesting to note that ideas which were startling twenty years ago, have become almost commonplace to the present generation. The pioneer baby [referring to her “Musical Baby”] would no longer be looked upon as exceptional, but would represent the ordinary development in a naturally musical child. Let us prove the altered conditions by glancing at the signs of the times.

At the present day we find lectures and lessons on Musical Appreciation given all over the country; there are special concerts for children, with suitable explanations; lectures on the great composers, with illustrations, in the Elementary Schools; while concerts at many of our big Public Schools are now preceded by an afternoon of preparation, with excerpts from the programme. With the re-discovery of the Folk Song, these are being sought out and collected by enthusiasts in every county and every country, one result being that Folk Songs and others of real musical value have taken the place of the old Kindergarten song with its doggerel lines and worthless tune, in our Infant Schools. Last, but not least, the musical programme to be played to the children, forms an integral part of the term’s programme in our own Parents’ Union School. (E. Glover, 1917, pp. 514-515)

Interestingly, this trend followed a little later in the United States. In the 1937 edition of his book, History of Public School Music in the United States, Edward Birge mentioned the phenomenal growth of school music during the previous fifteen years:

In the last fifteen years has occurred a forward movement in school-music entirely without precedent. The list of musical studies and activities in the curriculum of a high school of the first rank reads very much like that of a high-grade conservatory of music. … and the list includes also music-appreciation and history, with a strong swing toward making appreciation compulsory for all students. (Birge, 1937, p. 172)

Earliest Training

In addition to Mrs. Glover’s recommendations in her “Musical Baby” and “Our Relations with Music and Art” articles, Professor Niecks gave the following advice for beginning music appreciation with your baby:

Music for the baby, whether vocal or instrumental, should be always simple in melody, rhythm, and every other respect. Even if complicated music pleased the youthful auditor, it would not serve our purpose, as it could not be educative, owing to the necessarily confused impression made by it. Rhythm deserves special attention. It can be practised apart from melody by silent movements, by taps, and by clapping of the hands. Froebel remarks: “By regular rhythmic movements—and this is of special importance—the mother brings this life within the child’s conscious control when she dandles him up and down on her hand or arm in rhythmic movement and to rhythmic sounds … and later on, there would be developed in him a higher appreciation of nature and art, of music and poetry.” (Niecks, 1904, pp. 586-587)

Children naturally enjoy music and singing games in those early years and we can do much to encourage it:

Happy the babe whose nurse can sing the traditional nursery rhymes and folk songs, and encourage him to hum them in his tiny voice even before the right words come, and lead the children in those singing games, which have come down to us from untold generations. More often it is the mother who carries out this joyous task, and should her own vocal powers be small, she will still have the most uncritical and easily pleased of audiences. (E. Glover, 1917, p. 515)

Selecting Composers

In my previous article I answered such questions as:

  • Which composers were studied in the PUS?
  • Why were they chosen?
  • Did they only study one composer at a time?

While the answers to these questions are useful in deciding how to proceed with our students, there is another important question that we don’t always ask: what would Charlotte Mason do today? Following all the PUS selections to the letter does not necessarily mean we are following the spirit of what the PNEU was doing or that Charlotte Mason herself would agree with us if she were here now.

For historical context and analysis of the Parents’ Union School music programmes beginning in 1905, you can refer to my earlier articles:

When she reviewed the history of music appreciation in her 1952 article, Katherine Hugman hinted about a long-term plan:

Since then [1908] it has been the practice to study one composer per term, by which means a child at the end of a normal school life will be familiar with some of the music of about twenty composers. (Hugman, 1952, p. 135)

Miss Limbert’s obituary gave the reasoning behind her long-running series of music programme articles:

This series covered twelve terms[sic] (thirty-six programmes). In order to maintain a sense of proportion, articles on each of the great masters recurred at intervals, two or three times during the series, while composers of lesser importance would be represented by only one article each. (PNEU, 1952, pp. 316-317)

Considering this, it seems like a good plan to schedule out thirty-six terms to make sure the great masters are not missed. When repeating one of these great masters we can select different compositions and recordings to study. The remaining terms can then be filled in with lesser composers and those that are more contemporary or modern, or even, occasionally, multiple composers grouped around a theme. The information in my last article, “Reflections on Music Appreciation,” might be helpful in determining an order or pattern for your schedule. (A table listing the PUS composer selections from 1908 to 1953 is available here.)

Agnes Drury cautions us to maintain a standard of quality:

For music, that is to be studied, and is to influence the student, must assuredly be by worthy composers. (Drury, 1905, p. 9)

However, as we can see by Mrs. Howard Glover’s remarks in her “Lecture on Musical Appreciation” it is not always necessary to study only the greatest composers:

Grieg is not to be placed among the greatest composers but it was given to him to find an individual expression and to enrich music with new harmonic and melodic expression. (E. Glover, 1922, p. 510)

It can be difficult to determine which composers of our own day are “worthy” to be studied by our pupils. Cedric Glover gave us some advice concerning this:

[I]t is notoriously dangerous to dogmatize about the value of a new work—musical history is littered with the most glaring errors of judgment: there are always two factions, one to shower indiscriminate praise on novelty, the other to decry. It is best on the whole to reserve judgment, merely pointing out obvious virtues or shortcomings. (C. Glover, 1926, p. 249)

Even if you choose not to single out living composers for a term’s study, it is still important to expose your children to composers who are still alive. Vaughan Williams reminds us why in his “Message to P.U.S. Pupils”:

Have we really been taught that all composers are dead? Then indeed our art is dead. Vital art must be creative.

… let us remember that the composers of our own time and of our own country have something to say to us which even the greatest masters of the past age cannot give us; that is the only way we can build a great future for our music. (Vaughan Williams, 1951, p. 119)

While researching contemporary composers I came across an interesting article entitled “Can There Be Great Composers Anymore?” The author discussed causes of the apparent absence of great composers in recent decades. The composers of the past built on each other’s music and “common practices.” In contrast, “modernism” over the past sixty years has valued individualism above everything else:

The question of how music achieves meaning is one that has disappeared from composition courses in the music schools—and this also is the result of modernism. Much of modern art has been abstract, and it became fashionable to say that music as such could not have any meaning. … A great deal of knowledge about the meaning of music is thus nearly completely lost to the conservatories. In Mozart’s day, each tempo of music (the speed of rhythmic pulse) had a corresponding meaning in emotion that was tied to a part of life. Mozart was well aware of this. One musical speed, for example, corresponded to battle or anger, while another corresponded to introspection or melancholy. …

When an innovation is merely a kind of diminution or destruction—as has been the case with so many of the innovations of modern music—it has no value or weight in a neoclassical framework. In a neoclassical perspective, true innovation will be recognized to take place most often one small step at a time, from composer to composer, because it will involve the development of forms, not the discarding of them. … Otherwise, the music of the past will always dominate in the concert halls, thus undermining the economic basis for new music in the present. Beethoven’s “Für Elise” will always beat out a John Doe sitting in silence at the piano, à la John Cage, or a Jane Doe rapping her knuckles on a bamboo tube. But someone writing a truly beautiful melody has the chance of becoming a real rival to Beethoven. …

If a neoclassical criticism can now also emerge, composers will once again build upon the past and upon each other’s work, creating beautiful new melodies and nobly redefined forms. Eventually, a genius will appear who, like Mozart, will owe almost everything to those who went before him. (Young, 2014)

We don’t know all the reasons behind the choices of the music programme authors in the PNEU for each term, but there appeared to be an emphasis on English composers. When Miss Limbert chose Elgar for the first time in 1933 it was also the first time a living composer was selected:

Since Purcell died in 1695, the long list of our native composers has not contained any name of such eminence as that of Edward Elgar. (Limbert, 1933, p. 25)

American composers don’t show up on the list of composers studied in the Parents’ Union School, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them with our students. We can teach our children to understand and recognize the music of composers from our native countries.

Upcoming concerts, holidays, or other celebrations might also factor into your selection of composers for the year. In 1927 an article entitled, “The Beethoven Centenary in an Elementary School,” was included in the Parents’ Review about a teacher from a large school in a northeast suburb of London who decided to recognize the passing of one hundred years since the time of Beethoven’s death:

The arrival of the new term’s Programme is always anticipated with excitement and curiosity. We were just a little disappointed on discovering from the Easter Term’s programme that Beethoven was not to be the composer for this term’s study. [Beethoven had just been studied four terms previously.] However, we are fortunate in having on our staff one who might well have adopted the motto of Jacques Coeur, about whom we have read in French history this term, “To brave hearts nothing is impossible.” The prospect of attempting some adequate celebration of the Beethoven Centenary, in addition to the term’s study of Brahms, dismayed her not at all, and so we have joined with the civilised world in its homage to the great composer. (D. V. S., 1927, p. 338)

Take advantage of local concerts by selecting composers whose works will be featured. Many orchestras provide educational materials on their website for teachers to use in preparing their students to attend concerts.

Music traditionally enjoyed around holidays such as Easter or Christmas could be chosen for a term that coincides with that specific holiday.


While you could select a composer who lived during the historical time period you are studying for the term, it is not necessary. For more detail on the relationship of composers to history refer to my previous article, “Reflections on Music Appreciation.” This table shows how often the composers chosen by the PNEU aligned with their history readings. The linking of the composer and his music to national and world events and people is more important, whether studied previously or currently being studied:

Music should be fitted into the scheme of history-study, and not left isolated—for instance, Frederick the Great and Bach, Joseph II and Mozart, Beethoven and Napoleon would naturally be linked together, and use should be made of the history charts. (E. Glover, 1922, p. 508)

Not only should we connect the composers’ lives to their historical time period, we should also mention the music itself (such as instruments in use, musical time period, setup of the orchestra, trends in musical form, comparison with works of other composers, etc.). This might also include discussing the music of the time period being studied for history.

Selecting Musical Works

In general, we can use some of the same criteria as the PNEU for selecting compositions to study during the term:

  • a list of six pieces
  • a combination of both songs and instrumental pieces
  • the same selections for students across all forms

How do we choose which music to use? As I don’t think there is only one way to make your selections, I am offering several suggestions. If you use the PNEU’s scheme of repeating the “great composers” two to three times over your child’s school career, there is opportunity to opt for various compositions, using different criteria each time.

1.) Select compositions which show the artistic development of the composer.

2.) Collaborate with your child’s piano (or other instrument) teacher to select pieces with available sheet music at the appropriate level of difficulty for them to learn to play.

While we agree that it is important not to give too difficult music, we must choose simple pieces by the best musicians. And let us not think that our older pupils may not learn certain pieces until they can understand them. We should not hesitate to let them learn a poem by heart, because they could not wholly understand it, but rather wish to plant in their minds words, the meaning of which would one day dawn upon them. And so it is with music. (Drury, 1905, p. 9)

3.) If you do not have the knowledge or musical experience to talk to your children about a particular piece of music, choose pieces with resources available to you (online resources, books, Charlotte Mason curriculum providers, etc.)

4.) Include special music for holidays and Sundays.

5.) Look into concerts coming to your local area and choose pieces scheduled to be performed in the concert programs.

6.) Choose music already available to you. Use recordings you own or have access to with a subscription or for free online. The newest recordings are not necessarily the best:

Orchestral musicians are now trained to a very high standard, but they rarely enjoy the sort of long-term relationship with an individual conductor that used to give each orchestra its distinctive sound. The same goes for opera companies, which used to have a stable core of singers and musicians working under the same conductor for years. …

Musically, then, new is not always best. And don’t assume that a recording made more than thirty years ago will sound terrible. Sound quality won’t match that of digital CDs, but you’ll be surprised at how good it can be—indeed, many people prefer the warmth of the old vinyl sound to the often chilly precision produced by modern studios. … In short, you’ll be missing a lot if you insist on hi-tech—no recent releases can match Horowitz’s 1940 account of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, or Josef Hofmann’s versions of the Chopin piano concertos from the 1930s, or Rachmaninov playing his own music. (Boyden et al., 1994, p. vii)


What kind of resources should we use and what is available to us? A good place to start is by looking at the resources provided by the PNEU or available to the Parents’ Union Schools. Cedric Glover’s Music Programme 59 in the Parents’ Review for the Summer Term 1924 consisted of several different types of resources for studying Handel. The list of resources on p. 281 included:

  • The titles of three books—one including a chapter of biographical information on the composer, an aural training book, and “a story of Handel’s day.”
  • Six pieces of music (two of which were arias), along with sources for purchasing the sheet music.
  • Recommendations for choosing pieces the students could learn to play or sing themselves.
  • Gramophone records for three of these selections, along with an additional one containing Handel’s Water Music.

At the bottom was a note stating: “Notes on the music will appear in the May Review.” The article referred to included notes on musical form and history for the six compositions which the teacher could use.

What type of resources should we be looking for?

  • A means to play the music

Mrs. Glover’s earliest music programs declared, “if no executant is at hand, the services of a pianola need not be disdained” (E. Glover, 1905, p. 71). Although it can be difficult to settle for second-best, thankfully, I don’t think we have to settle when it comes to alternative listening sources today.

  • Ear training

It is possible to use Musical Groundwork, a book utilized by the PNEU, but Sol-fa is a form of ear training. The easiest resources for those of us who are “unmusical” are possibly newer resources containing videos or recordings where we can learn alongside our children.

  • Sheet music

There are free sheet music resources online, but another course of action may be to collaborate with your child’s piano teacher in selecting pieces from the composer for your child to learn to play with their own instrument. Looking at the score while listening is also enlightening for children who don’t play instruments.

  • Biographical information

Biographies would be particularly beneficial if they included not only information about the composer’s life, but also interaction and comparison with other composers. Many of the Parents’ Review articles included this information. Charlotte Mason Poetry has now provided three new music program transcriptions for your use, in addition to the Handel ones already released. Follow the links to view these historical PNEU music programs:

The PNEU used books such as Studies of Great Composers by Sir Hubert Parry and Percy A. Scholes’ Book of the Great Musicians and Second Book of Great Musicians.

  • Sources for “hints of musical form and history”

Besides the Parents’ Review articles, which provided information on the specific songs scheduled for the term, books suggested for help in this area were: The Listener’s Guide to Music by Scholes (Forms III and IV); Book of the Great Musicians (Form II) and Second Book of Great Musicians (Forms III and IV) by the same author. Forms V and VI used The Enjoyment of Music by A. W. Pollitt. Nowadays in conjunction with books we also have a wealth of information at our fingertips online.

One music programme author also suggested hanging a portrait of the composer in the schoolroom.

Most Charlotte Mason curriculum providers offer at least a suggested list of compositions to study by a specified composer for music appreciation. They may or may not offer the additional components provided by the PNEU. There are many websites, blogs, podcasts, and even a book written about teaching music within the context of a Charlotte Mason education. Whether you choose to use some of the historical resources still available, incorporate more contemporary resources, or use a combination of both, I hope I have provided enough information and insight to enable you to intelligently discriminate amongst them while following Miss Mason’s vision for teaching your children to listen with understanding.

Examination Questions

Examinations might be modeled after the ones issued by the Parents’ Union School. You can view a complete list of available exam questions set by the PUS here. The following questions are a representative sampling from that list which could be modified to fit your studies for the term:

  • Form I – No exam questions.
  • Form II – What works of [composer] have you heard this term? Tell what you can about one of them.
  • Form III – What compositions by [composer] have you most enjoyed? Describe one of them.
  • Form III – Write three lines on any five of the following:—[list seven or eight items (names of people, titles of musical works, musical terms, places of significance, etc.) for students to choose from].
  • Form III – (Oral) Can you hum, whistle, or pick out on the piano any three airs from [composer’s] works? If so, name each.
  • Form III – Tell the story of one of [composer’s] operas.
  • Form IV – What music by [composer] have you heard? Write your impressions of any one of them.
  • Form IV – Write three lines on any five of the following:—[list seven or eight items (names of people, titles of musical works, musical terms, places of significance, etc.) for students to choose from].
  • Form IV – What do you know of [composer’s] (a) chorales, (b) instrumental works? Which of them have you heard?
  • Form IV – Give shortly the story of one of [composer’s] operas, quoting any musical themes that you remember. What music from the opera have you heard?
  • Forms V & VI – What compositions of [composer] have you heard this term? Write fully on one of them (or upon the form of one of his works).
  • Forms V & VI – What works of [composer] have you heard this term, and what have you learnt? Write (a) fully upon one of his works, or, (b) an essay on “the life and work of [composer].”

As you can see from this sampling, each subsequent form should be learning more about musical form and history than the younger forms. This is evidenced by the different questions that were asked of the PUS students as they progressed through the forms.

Other Activities

There are additional activities which nicely supplement music appreciation. Attend local concerts featuring works by your current composer. Miss Drury encouraged preparing ahead of time by studying some of the compositions to be performed:

How delicious it is, at a first rate concert, to hear a piece of which you know every note, and to have it interpreted for you! Then why not prepare this pleasure for the children, exactly as we use the Perry Pictures to acquaint them with famous pictures? (Drury, 1905, p. 6)

This was echoed later in 1923 by Marjorie Ransom:

Children can be taken to the Sunday Concerts at the Queen’s Hall or Albert Hall. It is not necessary for them to stay all through the performance—take them out after the finest composition has been played. But, as I said before about pictures, it is not much use taking them to concerts unless they have some previous idea of what they are going to hear. Familiarity with the work means enjoyment of the finished performance. (Ransom, 1923, p. 82)

Parents’ Union Schools were also encouraged to put on Musical Evening Programmes at the end of the term featuring the current composer(s). There were several references to these programs in the Parents’ Review:

The numbers must be taken in their correct order and special ones can be chosen for a Musical Evening Programme. (Cruse, 1912, p. 948)

At the end of the term, a paper is read giving special points of interest about the composer and the items of the programme. The latter is given by the children where possible, and by more advanced performers when this is necessary. A Schubert programme contained The Unfinished Symphony, some of the Rosamund Music, Impromptus, Moments Musicaux, and a number of songs. A Schumann evening included The Piano Quintet arranged as a Duet, the Scherzo out of “The Carnival Prank,” several numbers out of The Childrens’ Album, parts of the first Novellette, and Blumenstück with several songs, Die Lotosblume, Der Nussbaum, Marienwürmchen, Schön Blümlein (Duet), etc. A number out of Schumann’s Requiem, the whole of which had been played and sung to the school on Sunday afternoons was also given. (Parker, 1915, pp. 797-798)

The second part of Mrs. Glover’s “Lecture on Music Appreciation,” was reminiscent of a Musical Evening Programme, including elements such as a timeline of the composer’s life, some information about his music and the inspiration behind it, performances by the children, and listening to gramophone records (E. Glover, 1922, pp. 506-512).

Musical Evening Programmes strike me as a fun way to celebrate the end of a term and share with relatives what you have been learning, whether you carry out one with your own family or in conjunction with other families.

What To Avoid

Knowing what to avoid can also be a useful part of instruction. Therefore, in addition to all the advice about what to do I thought it might be helpful to include warnings about what not to do.

1.) Don’t move on too quickly:

In any case each piece of music should be mastered before passing on to the next; the mere playing through of the music is in itself quite valueless and only the vaguest impressions result and as quickly disappear. (C. Glover, 1925, p. 7)

2.) Don’t study a composer in isolation. It is important to consider him or her in the context of history and in relation to other composers. Continually forging new links in the chain of history is key to giving our children “a consecutive idea of history” (Kitching, 1921, p. 49).

3.) Don’t limit your choices of composers to those included in the PNEU programmes. They  studied contemporary composers and so can we. Our children should realize composers are still living and that they can be composers themselves if they desire. Rather than emphasizing English composers you could choose to include more composers from your own country.

4.) Don’t focus on the greatest composers to the exclusion of all others. (But at the same time, don’t neglect the great composers!)

5.) Don’t limit selections to the same compositions as the PNEU. Their early selections were influenced by available sheet music for the instruments students were playing (notably pianoforte and violin). Your children may play different instruments. Nowadays we also have almost unlimited listening options available to us. In the beginning they did not have easy access to hear more difficult pieces of music performed, and longer orchestral works were not available on gramophone records until even later.

6.) Don’t overanalyze the piece:

The chosen piece then, suited to the child’s attainments, simple but melodious, is to become to her a means of expression. To this end it must be studied. What did the composer intend, and how does he show us his intentions? we must ask. We must be guided by the feeling produced in us. If it be but a simple one, then let the charm lie in its simplicity. But the feeling must be there, or there will be no music. The child who has this idea, and will let the music influence her, will play it tastefully, almost unconsciously. We need not dissect music in an endeavour to make it intelligible to the extent that some popular concert programmes do. Where were the use of expressing oneself in music if it could all be put into words? We must let the children come into contact with the great minds of the past, and leave the rest to them. (Drury, 1905, pp. 8-9)

7.) Don’t sporadically conduct music appreciation lessons:

[T]he instruction should be a regular weekly occurrence and not limited by the occasional visit at irregular intervals of an outside music teacher. (C. Glover, 1925, p. 5)

8.) Don’t allow children to sing inferior songs. This advice came from Mrs. Glover in her “Lecture on Musical Appreciation”:

But it was no good doing Musical Appreciation once a week, if children were allowed to sing rubbishy school songs and bad hymn tunes. (E. Glover, 1922, p. 508)

I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine what constitutes a “rubbishy school song.”

Reasons to Include Music Appreciation

In case any of you still have doubts, here are some of the reasons to include music appreciation in your home school. In Elsie Kitching’s Parents’ Review article “Children Up To School Age and Beyond,” she reminded teachers of their responsibility to maintain a broad and expansive view of their students’ education:

It rests with those who stand in loco parentis, including all teachers, to take a parent’s view, a family view of education, a broad view of the nature and possibilities of every child, and a long view of his education, to see to it that he has a generous supply of varied ideas, that his mind may grow, and of opportunity, that he may duly exercise his powers, both of mind and of body, so that he may enter into that state of knowledge which brings in its train humility, joy, and growth. (Kitching, 1943, p. 59)

She commented on how the home schoolroom lends itself to this wide vision:

The home schoolroom does offer this wide vision. The teacher of history is also the teacher of literature, geography and citizenship, even if she gets outside help in some subjects. Moreover, she is intimately concerned with the whole upbringing of the children. (p. 60)

Then she goes on to say the lack of a musical family is not a justifiable reason for neglecting music appreciation:

Again, a child may not be deprived of any of his natural relationships for any cause whatsoever. The argument of a personal bias against religion in the teacher places a heavy burden on a child, who will set out on a lonely journey by himself, uncharted, without rudder or compass. The argument that his teacher knows nothing of the natural world outside the textbook and the laboratory should be a disqualification, but this is one of the things that is taken for granted as inevitable. The argument that none of the family are musical is no excuse in these days of wireless and gramophones. (p. 60)

Subjects sometimes considered “extras” by others are actually an essential part of Charlotte Mason’s method:

Much of our practice has been generally recognised as having definite educational value, no longer to be classed as ‘extras.’ Nature Study (out of doors), Nature Note Books, Handicrafts, Music Appreciation, Picture Study, the reading (not scholastic study) of Shakespeare’s Plays, European and General History, and Century Books found a place in the P.U.S. programmes fifty years ago, long before they were given a place in the curricula of schools other than P.N.E.U. But even these subjects are usually patches on the curriculum and no essential part of a method founded upon definite principles. (p. 61)

The most growth came from including all the subjects in the PUS programmes:

The best P.U.S. works comes from home schoolrooms both at home and overseas (though very good work comes from schools where the work is carried out with understanding), partly because the provision of books is larger, and partly because individual children show more signs of growth upon a whole programme than upon parts of it. (p. 67)

Miss Cruse believed the ideal musical training involved both learning to play an instrument and learning to listen intelligently through music appreciation classes:

Miss Cruse believes that no one is unmusical, the difference lies between those who have been musically trained and those in whom such training has been neglected. … A full education in this respect lies in having two programmes, one for the pupil to do himself, the other for him to hear. (Cruse, 1914, p. 76)

Limiting music study to “musical” people was absurd according to Cedric Glover:

To limit the study of music to the so-called “musical” is just as reasonable as to close the theatres to all who have no talent for acting, or to forbid the picture galleries to all who cannot paint. (C. Glover, 1925, p. 5)

Encouraging Words

Sometimes we may agree that something is the best course of action, but for one reason or another have doubts as to whether it is the best course of action for us. If you can identify with any of the following reasons maybe one of these excerpts from the Parents’ Review will encourage you.

Are you unsure whether it is worth incorporating musical appreciation at this point in your children’s education?

At the Charlotte Mason College we also follow this plan of hearing particularly the music of one composer each term, for half an hour a week. In fact ‘Music on Friday’ has been such a tradition—since the early 1920’s—that when it had, for time-table reasons, to be transferred to Wednesday for one term recently, neither Wednesday nor Friday seemed to be in their proper place in the week. Students with little previous knowledge of music have frequently said that it was through these weekly half-hours that they came to love it; and those with more musical training have increased their powers of listening. Real listening is no passive affair but requires complete attention if it is to yield its proper fruit: knowledge and joy. (Hugman, 1952, p. 135)

Was your own education in music lacking?

I wish most to dwell on the certainty that we can set an ideal before our pupils in spite of our own limitations in the art. (Drury, 1905, p. 9)

Are you an “unmusical person”?

I have dwelt at some length on what was accomplished by Edward Thring, because it is exceedingly interesting and encouraging to see what can be done even by an unmusical person to establish the relation with music, of which this paper treats. (E. Glover, 1902, p. 578)

(You can read more about what Mr. Thring accomplished as headmaster at Uppingham on pages 577-578 in Mrs. Glover’s paper “Our Relations With Music and Art.”)

Do you doubt your own ability to teach music?

When she [Charlotte Mason] talked with you she brought out the best that was in you, something that you did not know was there. That is a rare gift. The learned and the great are seldom so endowed. We admire from afar—and remain afar. She caught you up to her level, and for the time you stayed there; and you never quite fell back again. She had given you new light, new power. She expected much of you, more sometimes than you knew that you had in you to give. But as always she was right; you had it and you gave, and of course gained by giving. (Household, 1949, p. 68)

Do you feel like you don’t have the time?

‘A daily musical half-hour of this nature will be found to awaken keen musical enthusiasm in the children…’ [E. Glover, 1905] …

This is what we mean by ‘Music Appreciation’ in our Parents’ Union School and it could well be read and re-read by all of us. A daily musical half-hour is an ideal probably attained by few—though I do know of some schools who manage it—but even a weekly half-hour spent in concentrated listening helps to build up a store of treasures. (Hugman, 1952, p. 135)

Key Elements of the Method

Most importantly, when carrying out music appreciation in our home schools we should remember the most crucial components of the method. Once again, those key elements are:

  1. Slow intentional listening in order to become familiar with each piece (prioritize knowing each piece above progressing through all the works)
  2. Training the ear to listen
  3. Biographical information placing the composer and his music within their historical time frame (does not need to be an exhaustive study)
  4. Comparison and connections to other compositions and composers from previous terms
  5. Daily listening (intentional concentrated listening may be more important than the length of time spent)
  6. Rudiments of the music (musical form and history)
  7. Students playing pieces by the composer (for children in Forms III and higher)

If we keep these elements in mind, there is flexibility in how we implement them, especially today when technology provides access to so many resources and options. I have shown some of the choices and concessions made throughout music appreciation in the PNEU in my earlier articles with the hope that you would feel the freedom to do the same.

I know of no better way to end than with some inspiration from Charlotte Mason herself:

A new Conception of Art; great Ideas demand great Art.—Looking out on the realm of Art again, we think we discern the signs of the times. Some of us begin to learn the lesson which a prophet has been raised up to deliver to this, or the last, generation. We begin to understand that mere technique, however perfect—whether in the rendering of flesh tints, or marbles, or of a musical composition of extreme difficulty—is not necessarily high Art. It is beginning to dawn upon us that Art is great only in proportion to the greatness of the idea that it expresses; while what we ask of the execution, the technique, is that it shall be adequate to the inspiring idea. But surely these high themes have nothing to do with the bringing up of children? Yes, they have; everything. In the first place, we shall permit no pseudo Art to be in the same house with our children; next, we shall bring our own facile tastes and opinions to some such searching test as we have indicated, knowing that the children imbibe the thoughts that are in us, whether we will or no; and lastly, we shall inspire our children with those great ideas which shall create a demand, anyway, for great Art. (Mason, 1989c, p. 262)


Birge, E. B. (1937). History of public school music in the United States. Philadelphia: Oliver Ditson Company.

Boyden, M., Rye, M., Broughton, S., Staines, J., Thomas, G., Webster, J., Fuller, S., Jackson, S., Prendergast, M., Doughty, D., Buckley, J., & Burton, K. (1994). Classical music on CD: the rough guide. J. Buckley (Ed.). London: Rough Guides Ltd.

Cruse, H. (1912). Our work. In The Parents’ Review, volume 23 (pp. 947-949). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Cruse, H. M. (1914). Musical appreciation class. In L’Umile Pianta, May, 1914 (pp. 75-77). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Drury, A. (1905). Musical teaching. In L’Umile Pianta, June, 1905 (pp. 5-9). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Glover, C. (1925). The term’s music. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.

Glover, C. (1926). Music. In The Parents’ Review, volume 37 (pp. 245-251). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Glover, E. (1905). Our work. In The Parents’ Review, volume 16 (p. 71). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Glover, E. (1917). Music in the nursery. In The Parents’ Review, volume 28 (pp. 514-516). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Glover, E. (1922). Outline of a lecture on musical appreciation. In The Parents’ Review, volume 33 (pp. 506-512). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Household, H. W. (1949). Continuation of the report of the P.N.E.U. Diamond Jubilee celebrated on November 26th, 1948: Reminiscences. In The Parents’ Review, volume 60 (pp. 67-78). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Hugman, K. C. (1952). Our music appreciation. In The Parents’ Review, volume 63 (pp. 134-135). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Kitching, E. (1921). The meeting. In The Parents’ Review, volume 32 (pp. 44-54, 92-101). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Kitching, E. (1943). Children up to school age and beyond. In The Parents’ Review, volume 54 (pp. 16-27, 54-68). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Limbert, K. (1933). Elgar, 1857—Music for the spring term in the Parents’ Union School. In The Parents’ Review, volume 44 (pp. 25-32). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Mason, C. (1989c). Parents and children. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.

Niecks, F. (1904). The place of music in education. In The Parents’ Review, volume 15 (pp. 579-589). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Parker, M. (1915a). The “P.R.” letter bag.  In The Parents’ Review, volume 26 (pp. 797-798). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

PNEU. (1952). Obituary: K.E. Limbert. In The Parents’ Review, volume 63 (pp. 316-317). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Ransom, M. (1923). Art and literature in the Parents’ Union School. In The Parents’ Review, volume 34 (pp. 75-84). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

S., D. V. (1927).  The Beethoven centenary in an elementary school.  In The Parents’ Review, volume 38 (pp. 338-340). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

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Vaughan Williams, R. (1951). A message to P.U.S. pupils. In The Parents’ Review, volume 62 (p. 119). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Young, W. (2014). Can there be great composers anymore?. Retrieved from

Dawn Tull has been homeschooling her children using Charlotte Mason’s methods since 2009. Although earning an MS in Business Management has left her underqualified to manage her own household, she has slowly been accepting the fact her four children were born unique persons. After relocating their family numerous times, she and her husband Donnie, currently live near Knoxville, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Researching and pursuing the truth is important to her and has given her a heart for supporting and encouraging other homeschool families. She enjoys studying and discussing Miss Mason’s philosophy with a local study group and taking advantage of the outdoors with a natural history club.

©2019 Dawn Tull

One Reply to “Music Appreciation in the 21st Century”

  1. What an amazing article! This will revamp music appreciation in my home. We already enjoy listening to our term’s composer’s works and learning about them through small bios but this new knowledge will help me plan this subject more intentionally. Very grateful for all the resources mentioned in the article.

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