One of the best ways parents can contribute to the musical education of their children is through exposure to excellent live performances. Of course, there is no substitute for being physically present at such performances, but for many families that is not always an option, due to the cost of concert tickets and/or living in a place with little access to professional performing ensembles. For this reason, I am a huge fan of concert DVD’s. I believe them to have significant educational benefits over CD’s. There’s so much to learn from watching musicians! Additionally, good video productions give you close-up views that aren’t accessible during a live performance, and some have educational materials built right in.
Here are just a few of my top recommendations (with links to where you can get them):
- Sir Georg Solti: The Maestro— This is my very favorite set of DVD’s. It’s might sound expensive ($47.99) but you get four DVD’s in the set, and all are excellent. Most of the music in this set comes from the Romantic Period, which is just fine by me, since that’s when all the best trumpet parts were written!
- The Keeping Score Series— For pure educational benefit, I don’t think you can beat this series from PBS. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony perform some of the greatest orchestral compositions in history, while also providing details about the composer and the historical context and importance of the piece. Each DVD contains a live performance of the piece and a 1-hour documentary. You can watch the documentaries online for FREE here, but the concert is on the DVD only. My personal favorite is the DVD for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
- The Herbert Von Karajan Legacy Series— Herbert Von Karajan was the long-time conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and this video series is tremendous. It’s difficult to find videos of this quality at this price! The series includes works from every era of orchestral music, and is a great way to start building a library of good music for your kids to learn.
- The BBC Proms— The “Proms” is the greatest classical music festival in the world. Each year, orchestras from all over the world travel to England to perform nightly concerts in a packed out stadium. The production and quality are top notch, and the DVD’s each contain the “best of” each year’s performances. You can also find many Proms performances on YouTube (including some great youth orchestras, which can be especially fun for children to watch!):
- Bach Brandenburg Concerts / Freiberg Baroque Orchestra — I can pretty much guarantee that your kids have never seen a real Baroque orchestra, playing authentic Baroque-period instruments! This is the best group of it’s kind, performing a series of concertos that feature some amazing soloists.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be orchestral music to be great! Here is a smattering of DVD’s from other musical genres that may interest you.
- Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Live at the Quick — Bar none, this is the best DVD I own. The Flecktones provide a totally unique musical experience, taking instruments out of their traditional contexts and combining several genres of music into something totally new. Each of the musicians is absolutely virtuosic, and a ton of fun to watch!
- Harry Connick Jr. – The New York Big Band Concert— Pianist Harry Connick has several DVD’s, and all are good, but this is my favorite. He’s a great showman, and his band is phenomenal. If you like jazz/big band music, this is one to watch!
- Les Miserables— This is one of the best performances of one of the greatest musicals ever written.
- Metallica S&M— You wouldn’t think a heavy metal band and a symphonic orchestra would have much in common, but this once-in-a-lifetime concert showed that great musicians can play anything! Not everyone is going to like Metallica, but unlike most metal groups, this band contains some incredible musicians. Here is one of the instrumental tracks from the album, written by Metallica and arranged for orchestra by Michael Tilson Thomas, performed by the San Francisco Symphony:
- STOMP Live— This is a group of percussionists known for making musical instruments out of everyday objects. Your kids will love them, but I’ll warn you: After watching this, they will probably start banging on pots and pans and garbage lids!
I could go on and on, but this gives you a good start. Feel free to share other favorites you may have come across! Students at the School of Performing Arts can borrow these and other DVD’s from me if you like.
P.S. — YouTube can be a GREAT resource for finding live performances, but there are a whole lot more BAD performances than GOOD ones on there! I encourage our students to explore YouTube to find performances and performers they like, but also encourage them to have guidance from their instructors to point them toward the type of music they ought to be emulating. Two YouTube channels that consistently provide very good performance videos are carosaxone and OedipusTyrannus.
It’s also rare to find a complete performance. I’ll leave you with one excellent exception, a complete performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: