Kids & Classical Music: The Absolutely Totally Completely Unscientific JPR Poll

Sep 25, 2011

The Genesis Of The Idea:

A while back I read about an informal poll conducted by Britain’s Classic FM that piqued my interest. They asked kids to let them know who their favorite classical composers were. I’ll share the top ten with you in a moment. I thought it might be fun to conduct our own completely unscientific research to see what kids in the JPR listening area prefer, compared to those across the Atlantic.

How We Conducted Our Unscientific Poll:

When the holiday break started, we asked listeners via the weekly JPR E-Newsletter to let us know the favorite classical composers of their children (you can sign up for the weekly JPR E-News at Additionally, since I happen to have a bored middle schooler that needed something to do over the holiday break, I set her to the task of calling her friends to query them, and we took a field trip across the street to the dance academy to ask a few budding ballerinas who their favorite composers were. So not only is this poll completely unscientific, it’s also overloaded with 12 & 13 year old girls.

While We Wait For The Results To Be Tallied...

Just for fun, before you jump down to the bottom to see what kind of classical music appeals to kids in Britain and the State of Jefferson, this is a good time to think about who you think topped their lists and why. A couple of different adults I spoke to while conducting the poll knew for sure that Mozart had to be at the top of kid’s lists. I remembered back to my own childhood....I’d never heard of Mozart. The music that my little sister and I danced around and conjured up elaborate fairy tale dances to included Grieg, Mussorgsky and my personal favorite, Gershwin. At least until Star Wars was released, and then we spent a lot of time re-enacting the cantina scene to John Williams’ soundtrack. As it turns out, my generation has a lot in common with the kids of today, classically speaking. And while a completely different set of composers are on each list (with the exception of one Russian Romantic), the Brits and the kids of the State of Jefferson are a lot alike.

The British Top 10:

1. John Williams – Harry Potter soundtrack

2. Howard Blake – Walking In The Air from The Snowman

3. Sergei Prokofiev – Peter’s Theme from Peter & The Wolf

4. Pyotr Tchaikovsky – Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker

5. Sergei Prokofiev – The Duck Scene from Peter & The Wolf

6. Paul Dukas – The Scorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia

7. Edward Elgar – Pomp & Circumstance from Fantasia

8. Johann Pachelbel – Canon in D

9. Sergei Prokofiev – Romeo & Juliet

10. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight Of The Bumblebee

The State of Jefferson Top 10

1. Tchaikovsky (this was listed by an entire gaggle of girls rehearsing a scene for an upcoming performance in The Nutcracker. So they’re a little bit biased).

2. Beethoven – This is my daughter’s personal favorite (she likes Ode To Joy from the 9th Symphony). Her friend Paris also listed Beethoven. She’s a fan of the 5th Symphony, which she likes to sing along to, because she’s made up her own words (“Beethoven’s’s really big”). Six year old Garrett likes to dance around his living room like a rock star whenever Beethoven comes on the radio, playing “air piano.”

3. Grieg – Anitra’s Dance. This is from Ally, a 7th grade flutist. She says every time she hears this piece of music she envisions a ballet going on in her head.

4. Haydn – Surprise Symphony was listed by 12 year old Amanda who says she likes it because of “the surprise.”

5. Telemann – “I like Baroque,” said one ballerina.

6. Vivaldi – “I really like his style,” said another ballerina.   

7. Handel – The Hallelujah Chorus (from one Medford mom who wrote that her teenage boys have been listening to classical music for years and loved this piece when they were young.)

8. Mozart –Xinyu, a Redding 13 year old, says Eine Kleine Nachtmusik calms her. One of the ballerinas said, “Didn’t he write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?” (Well, yes, sort of.)

9. Gershwin – from a ten year old who adores Rhapsody in Blue. Me too!

10. Bach – no particular pieces mentioned, just the composer in general.

So What Does All This Tell Us?

Here’s what it tells me. Programmatic and evocative music is what really appeals to children, even though kids in the State of Jefferson are more inclined to also like Baroque and Classical era music with no story behind it. But that is, in a nutshell, what they’re interested in. Stories. Music that conjures up the rich, vivid fantasy world that children play within, and music that has a personal sensory experience attached to it, like watching The Nutcracker on stage, Harry Potter on the big screen, and every little girl who’s dreamed of someday walking down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon.

There’s been a lot of talk in classical music circles lately about how to get kids interested in classical music. After all, they are the future. Certainly the responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of composers to write the kind of music that kids can identify with. Some of the responsibility is with parents, because children usually don’t get exposed to classical music unless we do it for them. But additionally, we can also help by giving our kids the tools to bring the music alive: telling them the stories behind the music and encouraging them to re-enact the stories while the music plays in the background.

And that’s where I come in. My responsibility is to give you the tool of music to in turn share with your children and grandchildren.

On Friday, January 1, while the kids are still out of school, I’ll dedicate an entire afternoon to classical music that moves kids, including the featured work, the perennial kid favorite, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and we’ll also hear Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Tune in to Siskiyou Music Hall from noon to 4 to hear many of the selections from both Top 10 lists plus a generous portion of other pieces chosen to get their interest and to get their creative juices flowing. If we’re lucky, the new year will also bring us a few new, young classical music fans!