Exposure! Cultural voyages via audio books and media streams

Last year, my daughter began playing violin through her school’s music program. Her teacher introduced her class to the works of many composers including Gustav Holst’s seven part orchestral suite, The Planets, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. If any of you are familiar with these works, then you know they may not be obvious choices to share with beginning string players, these pieces are challenging to listen to. Yet, despite their challenging nature, they are very evocative and this got me thinking about my daughter’s first exposures to classical music and her subsequent love of all forms of music and musical storytelling.

When she was an infant, we often streamed a local classical radio station that played as a constant background soundtrack in our house. She didn’t really seem to have an overt reaction to the music one way or another. Then came a shift. When she was a toddler, our next door neighbor gave her a CD called Beethoven’s Wig, sing along symphonies, classical music with a comedy twist. All of a sudden, with the inclusion of the added lyrics to the classical pieces, my daughter remembered the melodies and knew the composers. Eureka! The addition of the funny lyrics created a more engaging, “whole brain” experience, multi-sensory experience for my child.

After the introduction of Beethoven’s Wig, when she heard the original symphonies on the radio, she recognized them and knew the composers. The problem was, she would sing the “lyrics” over the symphony and could not wrap her little kid brain around the idea that the symphonies came first – without the vocal track. Needless to say, this concept took a long time to sink in, and it took even longer for her to forget about the lyrics! (I still catch myself humming lyrics to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th) Regardless of the confusion it caused around the lyric-free original works, it did get me thinking about the addition of a secondary layer to the listening experience and prompted me to find more multi-sensory media experiences for her.

We checked out Peter and the Wolf with the score by Sergei Prokofiev from the library. For the holidays that year, she received as a gift an audio picture book/ CD set called Songs from the Baobab– Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from Africa (I wrote a post about this and a few other musical picture books here). Soon she knew the songs all in the languages of the 10 featured Central and West African countries. Pretty cool, eh?

Audio Picture Books

This holiday season, the same company, The Secret Mountain, that published Songs from the Baobab just recently released a few new titles, Songs in the Shade of the Cashew and Coconut Trees– Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from West Africa and the Caribbean, Animal Musicians, and a third album Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music. In Little Creatures, classical music is introduced to children by showing how spiders, butterflies, frogs and snakes, have inspired the composers. Just as children observe nature, these composers observed nature and created musical masterpieces. The book has gorgeous watercolor illustrations of all the “little creatures” that were the sources of inspiration in each musical composition. As a matter of fact, each of these newly published audio picture books is beautifully and whimsically illustrated by different artists. They are a treat for the eyes in and of themselves, but when paired with the music, the audio picture books become engrossing little worlds into which young minds can immerse themselves. The books all feature extra content that can be streamed or downloaded, such as additional information on the characteristics, habitats, and behaviors of the 14 selected animal virtuosos featured in Animal Musicians. In Songs in the Shade of the Cashew and Coconut Trees book, there are extensive notes describing the cultural background of each song and a world map so kids can see and learn about where the songs and poems originate. These are beautiful and engaging ways to introduce children to the diversity of music.

Music Albums (to explore some music history)

If you are looking for a more recent survey of western popular music (like highlights from the past 100 years), then steer your children toward the kindie band Michael & The Rockness Monsters’ latest album, Seeing Life in 2020. The band covers 10 songs for 10 decades of music in the west, largely informed and inspired by lead singer’s Michael Napolitano’s parents’ vast record collection, with one original song in the mix. He says of his childhood soundtrack, “I remember being entranced by new genres. I knew that by using my memories, my experience, and my education, I could offer children a fun, cohesive musical library to draw on themselves…something to spark conversations and make new memories.” The collection of songs can be used as a platform to explore the history of popular culture through the eras. The overall positive song messages highlight the cultural value of entertainment as a way to help people process the challenging events of their time. 

Audible Original Books and Musical Stories for Kids

Of course, as you all know, there is also the ever-growing world of audio books and musical audio books,  the natural evolutionary offshoot of the physical audio picture book. In our house, we are Audible subscribers and therefore get to listen with abundance through their streaming app. My daughter is a voracious reader, and plows through audio books at about twice the rate of her regular paperbacks. Again, I credit this to the multi-sensory stimulation these audio books provide. She can doodle or color while listening to her books! They get her imagination and mental visualization going. It doesn’t hurt that they are also really good, engaging stories. Here are a few Audible originals that my daughter really enjoyed: I’m from the Sun, the Gustafer Yellowgold Story Volume 1, a musical origin story based around the award-winning series by visual artist and musician, Morgan Taylor (a story about being brave and forging your own path), Jukebox Joyride by the renown kindie band The Pop Ups (a musical history adventure featuring time traveling twelve-year-old twins), Riley Mack & The Other Known Troublemakers (a story about a sleuthing crew of unlikely friends, bullies, and corrupt officials), and Wishes and Wellingtons (a story about dreams, friendship and learning what is truly valuable in life). 

In addition to those titles my daughter has vetted, there are some newly published offerings that are worth checking out: Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant (aka Jazzy Ash from the kindie Jazz scene), a cultural New Orleans-based musical mystery tale involving hidden treasure and a 14 year old gumshoe, The Minnesota Chronicles, the Gustafer Yellowgold Story Volume 2, Gustafer’s adventure picks up where volume 1 leaves off and follows the young sunling in his adventures among the Minnesotans, and lastly, Foreverywhere by the kindie duo StevenSteven, which is a musical odyssey where the (possibly?) last unicorn in Anyville tries to form a band and rock out with the help from Rick the Giant, Betsy the Spider, and Princess Rainbow, the guitar shredding virtuoso featured in the song The Unicorn and The Princess.

Here are the respective trailer’s to Audible’s new offerings:

And a Behind the Scenes look at The Pop Ups’ Jukebox Joyride 

There is no lack of amazing media for kids out there! Hopefully, these and other musical stories out there will inspire your children and get them curious about new sounds, places, and things to explore. An inspired kid is a happy kid! Enjoy with abandon.



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