Ana Gerhard, author of Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music, studied as a concert pianist at the Mexican National Conservatory. Her previous works on introducing classical music to children (Listen to the Birds, Simply Fantastic, and Amazing Water) have all received a Parents’ Choice Award in the US. Gerhard took a moment to chat with The Secret Mountain about her new book, her career, and the many benefits of classical music for children.
This is your fourth picture book introducing children to classical music, following three Parents’ Choice Award-winning publications (Listen the Birds, Simply Fantastic, and Amazing Water). What inspired this latest creation?
When I had the idea of doing this collection of books to help introduce children to classical music, I looked for subjects that would attract their attention. One which came pretty soon to my mind was the universe of bugs and little creatures. Luckily for me, composers along the history of music were also attracted to little creatures which inspired them to create some of their works. These works of music inspired this latest book.
What are your thoughts on the medium of the audio picture book as a tool to engage kids in classical music pieces and concepts?
I like the idea of audio picture books because it gives children more elements to get into the world of classical music. With audio books, they have the music but they also have the illustrations and the stories behind the music. I really value the opportunity that audio books give children to share comforting time with their parents, grandparents, older brothers or sisters, as they read, watch and listen to the bugs.
How did you come up with the idea of introducing classical music through a discussion of little insects, amphibians, and other creatures?
The plan behind this collection has been to attract children’s attention to classical music through subjects that are congenial to them, like birds, fantastic creatures and bugs. At first sight these subjects are not necessarily related to music, but in my research I have found many classical pieces inspired by them and that’s what has allowed me to follow my plan.
What went into the decision process when you were selecting each piece for the book? Were there some pieces you had to leave out?
The selection of the pieces is the most difficult but interesting part. I listen for hours to many works by different composers, and my decision process includes different criteria: The first one is that the character (be it the flea or the cricket or whatever) must be very easily recognised in the music. But then there are many others. I always look for a wide assortment of characters; trying to find a wide variety of instruments, music periods and genres.
You’ve spent a great deal of your career on music education alongside your work as a preeminent concert pianist. How did this passion for education come about? In your experience, what have you found are the most effective strategies of getting kids interested in classical music?
It came naturally to me. Since I was a student at the conservatory I gave piano lessons to earn some money, and I have always really enjoyed spending time with kids. When I had my own children, this passion grew stronger. I was always looking for books, CDs, films or music shows that were children-friendly but high quality. It was not always easy. In the end, I think the most effective strategy to get children interested in classical music, is to have them read about or listen to music in the company of loved ones, rather than leaving them to engage with the material on their own. If they can spend time with someone they love while listening to music, they will naturally like it.
What do you feel are the benefits of exposing young children to classical music, through performance lessons and other listening practices?
There are many scientific articles enumerating the benefits of exposing children to classical music: They develop the ability of concentration and of abstract thinking, but most of all they get more sensitive, imaginative and creative. And with all these benefits they acquire a habit that will be a source of sheer pleasure for life.
At what age did you begin playing an instrument? What were the first pieces that captured your imagination?
I think I started piano lessons when I was 6. The first pieces that attracted my imagination were those that had a story related to it, or an illustration that I liked.
Have you ever written a piece inspired by an insect, amphibian, bird or other little creature? If not, do you plan on composing one in the future?
Sadly, I have never composed. I don’t know if I will ever do it. There are so many excellent pieces composed by others that I want to play that I will never get to the end of it…