Category Archives: music

Classical Music for Science Lovers


Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 16, 2016:


Albert Einstein and Alexander Borodin knew the importance of being inspired by both music and science. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

In 1991, I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in Animal Science, and was cleaning out stalls for an area veterinarian in the mornings, waiting tables at a comedy club most nights, and working as an overnight disc jockey on the odd weekend.

I hadn’t yet decided to go on to graduate school, and was, at least for that summer and one semester to follow, lacking a “calling.”

I only knew I wanted to continue with a higher “fallback” degree in some type of animal or biology-related science, but try to pursue a career in the arts or journalism. When I continued with my Master of Science, I joined the campus radio station, newspaper, dabbled in radio theatre, and even joined the local “contemporary stage band” my final semester. I loved the sciences, but was more in tune to the arts. The disciplines of science and music, in my mind, worked well together.

Of course, this lofty and slightly off-center opinion was met with equal sneers from my fellow science majors and extracurricular arts participants, but is it really such a weird marriage?

Think about it. The innovation of various sciences can be a beautiful art form, and there is an almost mathematical science to composing a musical masterpiece.

I was really thinking about this in 1991, when I ran across a CD by a classical pianist named Richard Kastle. He played straightforward classical standards, but his gimmick was his Harley-riding punker look.


Present day composer Richard Kastle was inspired by an image from the news, but he isn’t the first to create music based on the animal world.

The label bore the warning: “Parental Advisory: This album contains classical music, no lyrics whatsoever.” I liked that, and I purchased the CD.

This punk-meets-classical angle gained him some good attention over the next few months, and while some found him original and refreshing, others found him to be a hack. I’ll leave that decision to the individual listener, but there was one thing about Kastle’s CD, Streetwise, that I really found intriguing: an original piano piece called “Batcave at Dusk.”

In his liner notes, Kastle explained Nineteenth Century composers often wrote music inspired by paintings, a practice called “impressionism.” “Batcave at Dusk” was inspired by a news story, in what Kastle called “video impressionism.”

“I saw a news program in which the reporter interviewed a guest who had taken a video camera into a batcave in South America,” Kastle wrote. “The footage inspired me to compose a piece about bats in their environment.”

This stuck with me, because it combined my own fascination with animals with my life-long love of music.

If I had heard this song when I was a kid, I might have been more serious about my musical training, and be more of a refined guitar player rather than the mediocre enthusiast I am today. However, this classical soundtrack helped me remain in the animal-related science towards an advanced degree. In short, it worked. Science and music worked together to helped me towards a goal.

I’ve since learned this mix of science and classical music is nothing new. Many of the great composers were influenced by the sciences, and some of the world’s greatest scientific minds were influenced by classical music.

In order to help young scientific (or musically) inclined minds blend these two worlds, I’ve “curated” a very basic and short classical music soundtrack for both young scientists and budding audiophiles.

Physics:Sonata for violin and piano in G major, K.301” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1778)

The world’s most famous theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, was a music lover and amateur musician. He traveled everywhere with his violin (he called “Lina”), and even performed some benefit concerts. Reviews of his musical talent were mixed at best, but he often cited Mozart as an influence and inspiration, his musical harmony mirroring Einstein’s own work in understanding the physical nature of reality.

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” Einstein once said, according to an article in the educational site Open Culture. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”

He loved violin sonatas, and admired Beethoven and Bach, in addition to Mozart. Apparently, however, he wasn’t too crazy about Debussy or Wagner.


“The Planets” by Gustav Holst looked more at the emotional appeal of planets than their physical properties, but that doesn’t mean this work can’t inspire budding astronomers to look towards the skies.

Astrophysics: “The Planets” by Gustav Holst (1914-1916)

In “Los Planetas,” Holst explored seven extraterrestrial planets of the Solar System–before Pluto was discovered, then demoted–and gave each planet it’s own movement and personality. Mars was the warrior, and Venus the peacemaker. Mercury was the winged messenger, Uranus a magician, and so on. Holst wanted to convey each planet’s emotional appeal, rather than just the Roman deities for which they were named. Holst’s work was influenced more on astrology that actual astronomy, and but that doesn’t make the allure of wanting to travel beyond the stars, and learning more about them, any less powerful.

A fun video interpretation of this piece was done by children’s show hosts Dick and Dom of CBBC fame for the U.K. educational music program, Ten Pieces. A link the video can be found on my GeekMom post about Ten Pieces and its secondary grade counterpart, Ten Pieces II.

Ecology: Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1808)

Beethoven lived in the “big city” of Vienna, but often got away from it all by taking countryside strolls and retreating to rural workspaces. He loved the natural world around him, from the meadows and streams to the changing of the weather and the time of day. This was his inspiration of his Symphony No. 6, more commonly known as the “Pastorale,” the Pastoral Symphony. Consisting of five movements, this piece travels through a day in the country, starting with an Awakening of early morning, a Scene by the brook, and a happy gathering of country people. It later takes a darker tone as a thunderstorm rolls in, but concludes with the peaceful “after the storm” feeling and Shepherd’s Song. Not only did Beethoven use instruments to depict natural sounds of water, rain, and wind (or “storm instruments”), but also for regional animals, especially birds.

Now, here’s the test for true music and nature lovers: try to listen to this piece without picturing Walt Disney’s mythical interpretation from his 1939 film, Fantasia.

Pathology:Grande Messe Des Morts (Requiem)” Op.5 by Hector Berlioz (1837)

This piece was commissioned by the Minister of the Interior of France to remember soldiers of the Revolution of July 1830, but it wasn’t completed for seven more years. Sure, many composers have a Requiem to their credit, but there’s one thing about Berlioz’s piece young medical minds might find interesting, including those wanting to be part of the world of forensic pathology. Berlioz studied medicine. Well, at least for a short time. Despite writing small musical pieces as early as 12, his parents sent him to Paris after high school to begin his studies in medicine. He had no interest in practicing it and was disgusted by human corpses, much less having to see them dissected. Three years later, he went against his parents’ wishes and concentrated on music. His Requiem is one of his most famous works, despite his distaste in the subject of corpses, and he even revised it two times, the second only a couple of years before his own death. I guess that’s what we call ironic.


Berlioz didn’t like to deal with cadavers. Even so, one of his most famous pieces is a Death-Mass.

Zoology: “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camile Saint-Saëns (1886)

This is the most obvious of selections, but would be a shame to leave it out. Animals and nature influenced so many writers, artists, and composers (and still do today), but there is no piece so perfect for animal lovers of all ages than a 25-minute work that incorporates and entire zoo’s worth of animals, from mammals (wild asses, lions, elephants, and kangaroos), reptiles such as tortoises, an aquarium’s worth of fish, and fowl swans, hens and roosters, cuckoos, and an aviary, not to mention pianists. There was also a movement on fossils that could easily make paleontologists happy. Saint-Saëns wrote this piece after a less-than-successful concert tour, and had so much fun doing it he put off working on his Third Symphony. He gave a couple of private performances of the work, but he made sure it wasn’t published until after his death, so he could maintain a reputation of a “serious composer.” He died in 1921, and first public performance of the piece was in 1922. Serious composer or not, “Carnival of the Animals” is one of it’s one of Saint-Saëns most famous pieces, and music teachers–and kids–love it.

Meteorology:The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (1725) This is four-part violin

This four-part violin concerti is known as a “le quattro stagioni.” Each of the four parts, of course, represents a different season of the year, and is actually associated with a larger work called “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.” I debated choosing a less obvious selection for this field. Charles Giffes’s “Clouds” is also a good choice for weather-related music. However, “The Four Seasons” is a more complete all-weather, year-round piece. Plus, there’s an amazing variation on it, the “New Four Seasons,” by another punk-meets-classical performer, violinist and violist Nigel Kennedy. This one definitely worth picking up.

Chemistry:Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin (1890)

At first glance, one would think I chose this selection because it is part of the opera Prince Igor, which immediately conjures images of a mad scientist’s in the lab. Not even close. I chose a piece by the Russian composer Borodin because Borodin was a chemist and a doctor. Despite being known for his symphonies, operas, and other works, including the popular “In The Steppes of Central Asia,” music was only his secondary career. He was first and foremost a chemist and physician. He is credited as one of the discoverers of the Aldol reaction, he spent a year as a surgeon in a military hospital, and lectured extensively. As an advocate for women’s rights, he helped establish medical courses for women in the 1870s in St. Petersburg.

Unfortunately, his own knowledge in medicine couldn’t help him, as he died of a heart attack at age 53 while attending a ball. Even so, Borodin is a true example that one can become proficient in both science and music.

I hope this list will encourage others to look for new ways to combine musical note-making with scientific note-taking, because there is one beautiful thing the marriage of these two disciplines will always spawn: imagination.


Natural elements and phenomena have always inspired composers, including Beethoven and Vivaldi.


We Are The Music Makers with “Compose Yourself”


Originally published in Minion Feeding 101, November 14, 2015


ThinkFun’s Compose Yourself is a simple set of music cards that contains a world of imagination for budding composers of all ages.

“We are the Music Makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

These opening lines of the Arthur O’Shaughnessy, poem “Ode,” were the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the title card for ThinkFun’s musical learning product, Compose Yourself.

The cards were created by celebrated maestro, composer and cellist Philip Sheppard, who said he created the product with one goal in mind:

“This is a labour of love aimed at one single, simple point; that is to enable a child to feel (with goosebumps) that a bar of music can have the potential of a Lego block,” he said.

This is a very simple premise that opens up a vast pool of creativity. The product itself consists only of 60 transparent note cards, a simple instruction booklet, and a pull-string carrying bag. The entire thing is contained in a box small enough to be a stocking stuffer, but the worlds of musical inspiration it opens up are outstanding.

Plus, it is overwhelmingly easy to use.

The title card contains a code to log into and register on the Compose Yourself sit. Using the cards, users can put together a musical composition. Each card has four ways its notes can be played, with a coinciding number designation for each note pattern. Once at least four cards are plugged in (although the piece can be longer), it can be played back with marimba style, orchestra, or a combination of both sounds. The composer can then go back, add, or change cards, move them around and refine the piece.

Once completed, they can name their piece, print out the sheet music so they can play it offline, share it via email and social media, and (if using a desktop computer) download an MP3. The cards work with both desktop and tablet devices, but not with mobile phones.


Erin, 6, took her music choices very seriously.

Sheppard described one of his own struggles working on a particular piece as a reason for creating these cards.

“(Late) one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck,” he said. “I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart and soul.”

He then found a piece of transparent paper on his desk and tried this idea out. By being able to physically flip these notes around so quickly, he ended up writing three pieces that night. And so, the seeds of Compose Yourself were planted.

My biggest complaint with this product is that it didn’t come around sooner.

When my oldest was in fifth grade, she was active in both choir and her beginner guitar club at school. Unfortunately, her experience in music class was so frustrating it nearly poisoned her love of music. There was nothing wrong with the instructor (who was also her guitar and choir teacher), but this particular year was the dreaded “Recorder Class.” This simple plastic woodwind-meets-whistle has been the way music teachers have taught beginning music concepts for ages. Somehow, my daughter just couldn’t master even the simplest song on it.

Whether she couldn’t synchronize her fingers with the right holes, or whether the sound just didn’t move her, she became more and more bitter (and at times downright angry) with the instrument. She did learn enough to earn a good grade at the end of the year, but grew to hate the instrument so much when her class performed a end-of-the-year recorder concert, she found me in the audience as her class filed back out of the “cafetorium,” deliberately got out of her line to approach me, and defiantly planted the recorder in my lap.

“There! I’m done,” she said, as she hurried back in line, relieved to be rid of her musical bane.

What if, just what if, I had said, “Why not write your own piece to practice with; one the shows your frustration with this instrument?”

She would have loved that, I think.

Having access to Compose Yourself might have been a simple way to do this, making the experience so much better.

To find out how much this product would inspire, I had both my daughters (and myself) create some personal compositions. The outcomes, not to mention the reactions from my girls, were much more impressive than I would have thought.

My youngest, 6-year-old Erin, tried first.

molly compose

Molly, 13, loved being able to save her composition as an MP3.

Using an iPad, we sat at the kitchen table while she insisted on putting together a song without our suggestions. Her face upon first seeing her result was priceless, and she named her piece “Angel Songs” because they “sounded like angels,” and she liked hearing it in both the Marimba and Orchestra/Marimba combined versions.

“I felt is was neat that I got to hear my song, and I want to listen to it everyday,” Erin told me. “I like having the printed paper that has the musical notes. That was really cool.”

She told me she wanted to share her song with her choir teacher in church (a member of the local symphony orchestra), so he can play it for her on his guitar.

“I love my song,” she said. “It sounds like an angel playing an angel song and drum, and I want to play with (the music cards) for a long time.”

Since using a tablet devise prevented her from being able to create an MP3, she really wanted to make sure she was able to save her song later using a desktop. I told her when she finishes her homework each day, she can create a new piece. Being able use something educational as an incentive for taking her school work seriously is appreciated.

Listen to Erin’s “Angel Songs” here.

My 13-year-old (and former recorder curmudgeon), Molly, used the desktop computer to create her piece. The age 13 is a tough one when it comes to getting them excited about something, but she really wanted to try this product. After kicking little sister out of the office so she could concentrate, she composed a piece she called “Into The Garden.”

She said this piece was “really fun to create and compose.”

“You can create up to four lines with your own music,” Molly said. “It can help teach people to write and compose their own music. It can also help to calm down and relieve stress. I thought that it was a good idea for teachers to try out in a class for a lesson or anything related to this subject.”

One of her favorite things, was being able to create an MP3, and putting it on her iTunes list among some of her favorite artists. In the days of digital downloads, this made her feel she was a worthy musician. I was happy to see her love for making music was still intact.

Listen to Molly’s “Into The Garden” here.

Finally, I had to try this myself, and created a song for (and about) my young composers: “Two Daughters.”

I won’t go into to too much “composer notes” details, but this piece takes me through a day of being woken up by the over-enthusiastic six-year-old, the sluggish awakening of the young teen, the manic mornings, sibling bickering and laughter, and the calm-downtime at the end of the day. One thing I wanted to work with was repeating certain note patterns to hold it together. Not too bad for my first digi-composing attempt.

Listen to my “Two Daughters” here.

I will say this: the game suggests age 6 and older, but adults will find it addictive as well. This was a very relaxing and fun process, and one which will be repeated often by my family.

ThinkFun’s Compose Yourself retails for $19.99, but is available on Amazon for $14.99. Visit to learn more about this and other games and products.

Molly, 13, loved being able to save her composition as an MP3.

The first three installments in our “TVW,” aka the Tate Works Catalogue. Being able to print out sheet music for use with multiple instruments is one of the great features of Compose Yourself.

— Story and Images by Lisa Kay Tate
— Music composed by Erin, Molly and Lisa Tate.

Passing on My Love of Live Music: My Daughter’s First All Ages Show



IMG_3140I’ve had some pretty interesting live music experiences in my day.

I witnessed Mick and his boys endure constant drunk-dude outbursts of “Woooo, I love you, Keith Richards!” during what was otherwise a flawless Rolling Stones performance, and laughed as my mom’s asthma mysteriously cleared up from the nasty-smelling cloud of smoke wafting down on us at the Willie Nelson show.

I watched a performance by Pearl Jam with pure disgust, because an Austin afternoon traffic jam caused us to miss my only chance ever to see The Ramones. I yelled myself hoarse at both a Stray Cats reunion show and a Johnny Cash performance, and watched Gordon Gano chew out the audience like a school marm for throwing water bottles at a Violent Femmes show.

I pouted, because I wasn’t “old enough” to see The Clash yet, and thoroughly ticked off when former Sex Pistol John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon had a “throat problem” that caused him to cancel his show.

I’ve prog-rocked along with Carlos Santana, sh*t-kicked with Dwight Yoakum, and “rock concert moved” with the original Blue Man Group before they became an over-hyped brand name.

I’ve attended a chamber music performance at a motorcycle dealership, and seen countless jazz and folk concerts under the West Texas stars, while working summer music festivals.

I love live music, be it classical or heavy metal, pop or punk, blues or bluegrass. Just put me in that atmosphere surrounded by people drinking in the experience of absorbing that pure sound of notes and lyrics flowing from stage to ear; a sound without the sanitized filter of the car radio or Beats ear buds, and I’m where I want to be.

Now, here’s the overwhelmingly humiliating part. It all started with Lawrence Welk. I surprised my grandmother with a pair of tickets to the Champagne music pioneer’s traveling show when I was seven, and she had such a fun time, I took her to see Liberace.

Suffice to say, I’ve paid my concert dues as a dutiful granddaughter, but it wasn’t without merit. My grandmother and I were very different people and didn’t always get along, but when I took her to these shows, she was so genuinely entertained, none of these differences mattered. I was a good granddaughter in her eyes.

I think my dad noticed this and made sure I got plenty chances to see my own music. This included taking me to my first all ages experience at a rock festival,  to see one of my guitar heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughn. I had the good fortune to see him twice, both times with my dad, and both times two generations ran across friends we knew. There were people of all ages and ilk, just bonding over the sounds of one man on stage with one guitar… and it was awesome.

Old ticket stubs seem like worthless pieces of paper, except for the memories they hold. Every person who attends an a musical performance, be it an opera or rock concert, has their own story to tell. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Every person who attends an a musical performance, be it an opera or rock concert, has their own story to tell. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

In November, I had a chance to be on the flip side of this experience by taking my daughter to her first all ages show. My daughter had been going through the middle school, “yeah, whatever,” phase, and although she’s a great kid, getting her to admit she’s excited or happy about something is like pulling teeth from a dragon. Tread lightly.

She does love her music, and is rarely without her dad’s hand-me-down iPod, another thing that makes reaching out to her a bit hard.

One of her favorite bands on the planet is the Plain White T’s, and when I found out they were coming to a fantastic local music venue, Tricky Falls, for a pretty inexpensive ticket price, I figured it was time for some aggressive mother-to-daughter outreach: a live rock concert!

I had a little ulterior motive, as I really like this band, too. I had also been itching to get myself to a smaller venue concert again, particularly since putting concert calendar listings together is part of my day job. I needed a girls’ night out with one of my girls.

We had taken her to other shows as a kid (do The Wiggles count?), but this was the first time she was getting to see a show by her band. I didn’t let her know where we were going until we walked in the door of the club. The entire time the doorman was marking her hands with those big telltale “I’m under 21” X’s in permanent marker, she eyed me with suspicion. It wasn’t until we walked through the foyer of the old renovated theater space, that I held up the ticket stubs and showed her:

“This is where I brought you,” I said, and she literally did a “YES!” fist pump.

Like my own concert experiences, I got to witness how many different types of people were there to for the Plain White Ts experience. Since one of the opening acts was a runner up of the show The Voice, Matt McAndrew, there were plenty of parents who wanted to see him. I didn’t know who he was, since I don’t watch The Voice, but, he put on a solid show. I made a couple of iTunes purchases of his music, and of the other opening band for the show, Beta Play.

I never heard of either of these opening performers, but that’s what seeing them live does. It forms a connection to their music hearing it through a third party device just can’t.

I had a blast showing off my concert cred to my daughter. I showed her how to inch her way to the front of the crowd, which t-shirt type is the best to get (the one with the city listings, of course), and how to carry as little as possible on your person, so you can put your hands up and dance and when the spirit moves. I taught her how to ignore the “my first beer” drunks, and to look in between the sea of smartphones thrust in the air when Plain White T’s frontman Tom Higgenson sat down for a stage solo of  “Hey There Delilah.” She put her own choir experience to use by remembering to shift her legs, and not lock her knees from standing.

More than anything, I taught her to lighten up a bit. Don’t be afraid to sing, to scream appreciation, and to dance. No one is judging you, they’re all just here for the band. By the end of the show, she had sung along to nearly every hit, waved her fandom allegiance to every band member, and smiled the entire time. I did as well, not only for the terrific show, but for seeing how much fun my daughter had, and watching her catch the same concert bug that has inflicted her mother for several years.

I think, although can’t be sure, I even heard a “thank you.” For the sake of happy memories, I’ll say I did.

Fuzzy photos and printed out tickets signed with Sharpies may not be museum worthy, but who cares? All that matters is getting to say, “I was there, and it was amazing.” Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Dark camera phone photos and tickets signed with Sharpies may not be collecter value, but that doesn’t matter. What doe is being able to say “I was there, and it was amazing.” Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

After the show, we were able to wobble and crunch our way through the crowd, to get my daughter an autograph from one of the lead vocalists and guitarist, Tim Lopez and drummer De’Mar Hamilton, as well as from McAndrew.

When I got home, this 46-year-old mother of two felt as young and vital as my 13-year-old, who at least for one night thought I was the most awesome mom in the world. Despite my sore feet and droopy eyelids, I felt energized with the elixir of good music, and fond memories.

I got to see this thrill carry on when my daughter watched the band we just saw singing their new hit, “American Nights,” on a Macy’s Parade float on television over Thanksgiving weekend less than a week later.

“Oooh, they sang this one when I saw them Friday,” she boasted to her little sister with a huge grin.

I remember that thrill of familiarity and privilege that comes from being in the same room as a favorite performer, and it’s a thrill that will always pop back up, no matter where my daughter goes in life. Wherever she is, whatever her experience, there will always be a little nostalgic spark when she hears “1234” somewhere in her periphery.

Yes, the live music experience is still a potent today for me as it was when I first saw Stevie Ray blare out “Pride and Joy” to a mass of music lovers several generations strong.

Sometime, in the not-too-far-off future, I hope, I plan to experience it again.

Originally ran in GeekMom Dec. 2, 2015.

Ten Pieces II and CBBC Envy


nobachforyou“Classical music is a little bit like having a spaceship. It can take you anywhere you want.”
— Dominic Wood (of CBBC’s Dick and Dom) in Ten Pieces.

We listen to a ton of music of all genres in our home. I’m proud to say my 6-year-old, who enjoys Yo-Yo Ma, can identify Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, as quickly as she can The Ramone’s “Pet Sematery,” the latter of which she just recently quit referring to as “Don’t Put Me in the Berry.”

Over the past month leading up to Halloween, we had been playing several “dark classics,” including, among other pieces, Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and especially the goose bump-inducing Bach masterpiece Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Therefore, I tapped into the wonders of world-connecting Internet, as well as my insatiable journey for all things educational, and spiraled myself into a corner of frustration, as I tried to access the video content of BBC’s young people’s programming branch, CBBC’s, classical music film and outreach program for secondary schools, Ten Pieces II.

I had forgotten they were working on this until I ran across a Vimeo clip of one of my favorite actors, Christopher Eccleston, introducing “Ride of the Valkyries” for this project. It looked, for lack of a better phrase, absolutely fantastic. The production value was outstanding, and I couldn’t wait to see and share this entire film.

There are other cool aspects of the Ten Pieces II film, CBBC’s secondary level answer to last year’s successful Ten Pieces program and film for primary students. This included introductions by stand-up comic Vikki Stone and rapper Doc Brown, performance poetry with poet, musician, and educator, Chris Redmond, and a “Ten Pieces Megamix” presented by DMC World DJ Champion Mr Switch. The purpose of both these films is to introduce new generations to some of the world’s most celebrated classical pieces, as well as for use in a school curriculum.

However, the icing on the cake for me was with the opening piece, in which my personal creative muse, presenter James May, introduces, you guessed it, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.

Quick lesson for those who don’t know: “BWV” refers to the cataloging system of Bach’s work, or “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” in German. But, I digress.

I couldn’t wait to share these with my kids, as well as view them myself. Also, having both May and Eccleston introducing these pieces gave me reason to believe somebody out there created this program specifically for me (for use as an educational tool, of course).

Plus, CBBC offered a free DVD to secondary teachers, something my husband would have loved to apply for and use in his high school world history and geography classes, as he often discusses the artistic contributions of different eras and cultures.

Then, I saw that dreaded phrase: “Available for UK schools only.”

Of course, *sigh* of course.

Oooh, but they have the “chapterized clips” online, so we can just pull these up and watch them as we need them….or not:

“Sorry, CBBC games and videos can only be played if you’re in the UK,” so says the site.

Aaand, there you go. That location-limited practice sometimes called geo-blocking. This isn’t done out of spite, but rather, often to keep the licensing budget under control. Even so, it still feels like being left out of the “cool music kids” club.

Once again, I get to witness a resource with tremendous teaching and entertainment potential from another country, and am stymied by that little reminder social media hasn’t actually physically shortened the miles between the continents.

Now, obviously, I realize there’s a little bit of a geographic gap between North America and Europe, and it isn’t practical to supply American schools with free DVDs. Shipping cost alone is impractical. I am also aware licensing fees are a pain in the backside, when it comes to making video content accessible overseas. I completely understand this, but I don’t have to be happy about it.

The representative I contacted about this from the BBC Ten Pieces team was very helpful. She told me there is an ambition to make this film, which is funded by U.K. license payers, available internationally, but this likely won’t be a quick process.  Fair enough.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve felt a little bit of international malcontent for lack of instant gratitude in the cyber world, but this latest disappointment had me thinking. Instead of grumbling about what I can’t access, I’ve come up with some ways to use what is available to us educators, parents, and music lovers west of the Atlantic.


Ten Pieces and Ten Pieces II was created with U.K. students in mind, but there is still some great of content for available for everyone “across the pond.” Images © BBC.

Grab ALL the Downloadable Content Available.

Teachers from all over can access this free information—and CBBC happily provides this—including grade-specific arrangements of each piece, posters, composer profiles, lesson plans, and repertoires.

There is also audio content available in the form of free downloadable mp3s, performed by the BBC Philharmonic (Ten Pieces II) and BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Ten Pieces). Yes, these audio clips are accessible by everyone.

However, the Guide to the Orchestra eBook is available for U.K. devices only. Oh well.

Know Where to Dig for Videos…Legally.

There are ways for American viewers to see content on U.K. sites.  BBC Worldwide on YouTube does have a CBBC channel as well. Currently, there aren’t any Ten Pieces II clips, but there are performances from the original Ten Pieces available for viewing.

Sometimes you can get lucky and find a clip on the BBC News Channels, but other times it will just link you back to the U.K.-only sites.  The YouTube content is really the best bet.

Back in the day, we actually purchased a used DVD player so we could set it specifically for our U.K. purchased discs (we had accumulated a lot of Michael Palin travel discs). One would think it would be easier to convert videos online.

Well, if you’re really desperate to see something, there are legal VPN

Of course in most of my cases, you can “wait it out.” It seems like all videos like these end up on YouTube or Vimeo eventually, and since it was one of these sites where I ran across the Eccleston/Wagner piece, as well as Dick and Dom’s introduction for “Mars” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” in the original Ten Pieces film, there’s a pretty good chance, others will follow. Just have patience.

Take Advantage of Good Old American DIY.

By using the downloadable resources that are available for everyone, it is actually easier to find video clips and audio downloads available to American viewers.

One of the resources from Ten Pieces is a downloadable repertoire. Use this to put together your own iTunes disc, since all of the pieces listed are easy to find and purchase. It may not be the arrangements used in the CBBC program, at least you’ll have a similar playlist.

I have to point out there are wonderful resources for American teachers out there just waiting to be discovered, from sheet music to online clips, and instrument-specific materials. The K-12 Resources for Music has links to hundreds of sites for educators and parents, but keep in mind not all of them are current or active.

The downloadable The downloadable content is there for a reason. Use it! Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The downloadable content is there for a reason. Use it! Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Take advantage of these domestic resources and combine them with what you can from the CBBC programs. Find recordings by the New York Philharmonic or Boston Symphony Orchestra, to help illustrated the lesson plans provided online by CBBC. Come up with a fusion of the best of both sides of the pond.

As far as making this internationally available, maybe if enough interest were shown for these films from North American schools, I would like to see digital downloads offered for purchase for a nominal price. I’ll just put that thought out there, and walk away.

Classical music, and all music for that matter, is such a uniter of people from all over, it only seems right to pool the American and European programs and resources available, and really create something spectacular.

These Ten (or Twenty) Pieces are a good place to start.

Originally ran in Geekmom on Nov. 9, 2015, since then the author is happy to announce James May’s clip featuring Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is now available via YouTube!