Liberal Arts Blog — “Classical” Music Core Curriculum: if, then, What? Who Should Decide? How?

Liberal Arts Blog — Thursday is the Joy of Music Day

Today’s Topic: “Classical” Music Core Curriculum: If, then, What? Who Should Decide? How?


Should some music be considered so important that every high school graduate should have been exposed to it, and more importantly, trained to appreciate it? Should every high school student have actually performed it? If so, who should decide what music is so worthy? Does a Great Music curriculum make more or less sense than a Great Books curriculum? Are the arguments pro and con the same, or different?

I would argue that setting a Great Music program is more important than the Great Books question because music which long, long predates books, is proportionately more primally important and deserves, in fact, more attention at the K-12 level.


Should the people decide? Should the metric be record sales? Should part of the algorithm be singability? To really appreciate music and make it part of your soul is to memorize it. The most important musical instrument is the voice. If you can’t play it (sing it), can you really feel it as deeply as something you can sing? And isn’t music a collective thing? Shouldn’t the selection be something we can all do together? We were all made to sing. All born to sing. Same as birds. And should the picks have a common theme? If so what? To me, yes. And that theme would be (drum roll): gratitude. Today, an eclectic list of my picks, in order, with reasons. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Hallelujah is probably the song sung together in groups every year more than any other song around the world. I do not believe it is a coincidence the word incarnates the first of the virtues and the parent of all the others — gratitude (which is called “piety” by the religious as readers of this blog may be tired of hearing). Perhaps it is no surprise then that the song that to me is the most powerful written in the last hundred years has the same theme: “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen). Can all these choristers be wrong? Not achance. Singers vote with their feet and their voices. They flock to Handel.

2. Ode to Joy is the final and climactic movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the tune has been made the European Anthem because of the music and the message which is a set of variations on the first child of gratitude — love of all humanity. The universality of the song’s appeal is testified to by the fact that Ninth Symphony has become a staple of the Japanese celebration of the New Year. It is also the theme song of the greatest Christmas film of all time — Die Hard. If you haven’t seen it, well there are still almost threeweeks before December 25th. Watch it and you’ll get the joke.

3. Twinkle, Twinkle needs no introduction. If there is a song that more children around the world know and love, please let me know. Is there some joy more basic than the joy of the night sky? is there one more universally available to every child born? is there a greater show on earth? No, no, no.

AVE MARIA (Bach, Gounod), LULLABY (Brahms), THE TROUT (Schubert)

1. The Ave Maria is, in my opinion, the most beloved of all Christian prayers, and probably the one said most often around the world. Its supreme setting is Bach/Gounod version — the result of a series of serendipitous events told in entertaining detail in the twelfth link below. The photo above is of Gounod.

2. The Brahms lullaby has probably been sung as a good night song to children more often than any other without the singer ever knowing who wrote it.

3. To me, the top five are an absolute lay-up. With pick number 6, I get a bit esoteric. Schubert is the greatest song writer in the classical repertoire. The problem is he wrote so many great ones. The most popular in Germany is certainly “The Erlking” — but it is too long and dark to make my cut. “The Trout” is more fun. What would your pick be?

FAVORITE THINGS (Sound of Music), OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING (Oklahoma) SMILE (Charlie Chaplin)

1. With picks seven through nine, I get populist. Classical should be redefined to include the best hits from the best musicals and the hit parade. Favorite things is the best song from the best film of all time (in my opinion, obviously). The number of covers and adaptations testifies to its power.

2. The most important thing in life is to get off on the right foot in the morning. No song gets the message across more directly than the opening tune from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma.

3. The most tragic figure in modern music is Michael Jackson. His favorite song, played at his funeral, was Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” The most difficult thing in life is being grateful in the face of tragedy — whether the product of evil intent or just bad luck. You must fake it to make it. No song says it better than “Smile.” Two versions below: Nat King Cole and Michael Jackson.

Royal Choral Society: ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah

Ludwig van Beethoven: Ode an die Freude/Ode to Joy 1

Mozart — Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (12 variations on Ah vous dirai-je, Maman)

Yo-Yo Ma, Kathryn Stott — Ave Maria (J.S. Bach/ Gounod)

Johannes Brahms — Lullaby

Franz Schubert — “Trout” Quintet — Berliner Philharmoniker Soloists/Yannick Rafalimanana

Schubert: “Die Forelle” (Fischer-Dieskau, Moore)

My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music

‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’’ | Gordon MacRae | Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! (1955 FIlm)

Nat King Cole “Smile” (1954)

SMILE sung by Michael Jackson

An Alternative List: (I like it. Please share yours.)

10 Iconic Pieces of Classical Music | All Classical Portland

Last four years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Time to share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to music. Or the coolest thing you learned in your life related to music. Say your favorite song or songs. Or your favorite tips into the history of music….Or just something random about music… like a joke about drummers. jazz, rock….or share an episode or chapter in your musical autobiography.

This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And perhaps to cement in your memory something important you would otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that matters to you.

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, and art.