My mother has a beautiful mezzo soprano voice. When I was a child, she participated in many community choirs, and, due to my father’s deployments with the Navy, she frequently had her three little girls in tow. Because of this, I grew up learning the parts to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” Offenbach’s “Nosy Neighbor’s Chorus,” Golin’s “Regina Celli,” and many other classical pieces. She jokes that she used the Suzuki method before she knew what it was.
Mom often sang solos in concerts, and would play classical records at home for hours so that she could practice. One of her favorite pieces was Hall Johnson’s arrangement of the old spiritual, “On Ma Journey Now,” popularized by the great Leontyne Price. As I reflect upon my years with Classical Conversations, I can still hear the chorus ringing in my head.
“On ma journey now, (Mount Zion)
Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ (Mount Zion)
For ma journey now, (Mount Zion)”
I did not understand that song when I was growing up, but I now see the blessing of growth that takes place on the journey to deeper understanding. The road taken during the Foundations years has many milestones along the way. Mastering the basics of reading, writing, and math takes years for most learners. So, we stop and celebrate the day she can read Green Eggs and Ham all by herself, even though we know that The Scarlet Letter still lies ahead. Because she learned to read that first book, she has now consolidated essential skills and gained a new level of confidence that will serve her well in tackling the next one. That little milestone has an intrinsic value, as well as significance as a part of the greater journey to adulthood.
The journey to spelling mastery was a particularly arduous one in my household. I tried a variety of curricula and activities, but met with limited success with each one. As time went by, I realized that this was one subject that required my consistent, hands-on attention. So we played games, made spelling journals and flash cards, made up rhymes, and memorized mnemonics and sing-song rules. And, eventually, they got it. For some of my children, the spelling light bulb did not come on until around tenth grade, but it did come on. Other educational systems would have told my kids to just learn to use spell check, but I was not willing to settle for that. Now we enjoy the bond that grew as we did all of those activities together along the way, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that the perseverance was worthwhile.
The road to cultural literacy was much more pleasurable. Taking a page from Mom’s book, I exposed my children to all kinds of cultural activities as often as I could. In addition to the garden-variety visits to museums and free classical concerts, I tried to weave exposure to the fine arts into our everyday lives whenever I could. For example, every year I would purchase a wall calendar with works from a single artist in it. Then, on the first school day of the month, we would change the calendar page and review a few basics about the artist and the piece. And so, my children learned that when they see ballet dancers, they should think of Edgar Degas, impressionistic sunflowers mean Vincent Van Gogh, one big flower on a canvas is Georgia O’Keefe, and realistic paintings of Americana were by Norman Rockwell (our favorite).
One of my proudest moments as a mom was the day that we were settling into our timeshare condo, and my kids were in the bathroom arguing about whether the print on the wall was a copy of a painting by Van Gogh or O’Keefe. As it turned out, it was Georgia O’Keefe’s painting of a sunflower inspired by Van Gogh. I also smile when I think about the day that my Challenge III son and I were in the mall and he said, “Shhh…Mom, listen. That’s Vivaldi.” Score one for Challenge II Western Cultures! This knowledge will benefit them again and again as they use it both as a means of understanding our Creator better, and as a means of sharing His majesty with others whom they meet.
As I gain experience in my own journey as a tutor, I am growing to appreciate the beauty of harvesting the fruit of seeds carefully planted and tended in the Foundations years. Students have the satisfaction of recognizing the value of memory work that may have sometimes seemed like gibberish as an eight-year-old; they often find they can now accomplish in a day what takes their less prepared peers weeks to achieve. Challenge students are all at different places along their learning journeys. Our job as parents and tutors is to help them come to appreciate the true, the good, and the beautiful, and to welcome the academic challenges that lead to an even greater revelation of God and His majesty.
So, wherever you are on your journey in Classical Conversations, take time to appreciate the triumphs along the way. It is tempting to want to skip the voyage and simply arrive at the destination, but in the end, I am sure that you, too, will be able to say, “Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’, (Mount Zion), for ma journey now, (Mount Zion).”