Children hear music everywhere, but it's in your home where their exposure to it is most constant and focused. It's a thrill to share artists and songs you love with your kids and parents should introduce their kids to a variety of musical genres and styles with the same attention we give to sharing different kinds of books. The benefits of making music an integral part of your family's home life are immeasurable: encouraging self-expression, aiding listening skills, bridging cultures and generations as well as a growing body of data linking musical exposure and brain development. All week long on Ohdeedoh we'll be sharing some of our favorite music, instruments and related activities and I wanted to start with the one recording I think every family should own: Composed in just four days, Sergei Prokofiev's 1936 Peter and the Wolf was commissioned by Moscow's Central Children's Theatre to "cultivate 'musical tastes in children from the first years of school." It premiered to little fanfare, but in the decades following became an enduring classic recorded repeatedly by orchestras around the world as well as notable narrators.
It's the story of a young boy, Peter (represented by string instruments), his cranky grandfather (bassoon), a hungry cat (clarinet) who remains hungry, a hungry wolf (french horns) who does not, an unlucky duck (oboe), a clever bird (flute) and a pack of hunters (woodwinds). I have fond memories of lying on my bedroom floor listening to it on my record player utterly entranced by the story and the music. Did it spark a lifelong passion for classical music? No, not really. But certainly an appreciation. Peter and the Wolf is an ideal introduction to classical music and the instruments that make up an orchestra. It's wonderful to listen to as a family, eyes closed, perhaps in the glow of your lit tree this holiday season. You may even be able to find it being performed near you. I'm most familiar with the Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic version, but there are many good ones to choose from (some, sadly, no longer in release) with an eclectic range of narrators: David Bowie, Boris Karloff, Sting, Dom DeLuise, Dame Edna Everage, Patrick Stewart, Sophia Loren and many, many others (this collector has a comprehensive list). There are a few humorous versions including a hard-to-find "Weird" Al Yankovic parody and a newsy version by NPR's All Things Considered staff. A Spanish language version, Pedrito y el Lobo is narrated by Jose Ferrer. The 2008 Oscar winning animated portrayal is a masterpiece, but I found it an especially dark "telling" (narrator-less) best suited for school age kids and older. Does your family love Peter and the Wolf? (Image by Flickr member Victor Chapa licensed for use under Creative Commons)