This blog first appeared on Dr. Spencer’s blog: Cuppa with Jen.
Often, people who are trying to work out Mason’s philosophy and methods will ask me for book recommendations. There are lots of books out there, and I do try to read them all, but there are so few that I have ever felt I could recommend without reservation. So I politely try to turn them back to Mason’s volumes, even though I know I am setting them up for frustration. The only other book I have been able to recommend wholeheartedly is Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks With Charlotte Mason. It really is unmissable.
Authors have been trying to write books that make things easier on homeschooling parents ever since Susan Schaeffer Macaulay published For the Children’s Sake, to varying degrees of accuracy and success. But, as Hoyt points out in her book, we can hardly fault them for their efforts, since they only had the volumes to go on. Now, however, we have easy access to supplemental material that fills in the gaps for us. These include PNEU programmes, The Parents’ Review, L’Umile Pianta, and most of the books that Mason references in her volumes.
A couple of weeks ago, I published a blog on research in which I said that the Mason community needs to be delving into primary resources in order to round out the pictures we have of each method. We need to be cross-analyzing and cross-referencing and reading the books that Mason recommended. We also have to go in with open minds–not preconceived ideas that originated on someone’s blog or in someone’s book or that we heard in someone’s workshop that causes us to cherry-pick quotes from the volumes that support our theories. Starting with a blank slate allows us to really hear what Mason herself was saying. I was ecstatic when I found that was exactly what Hoyt did in this book. Beginning with the volumes, she was able to let go of everything she thought she knew in practicing music study and simply follow Mason’s trail wherever it led. That is real research, and it is what we should demand of anyone publishing on Mason today. I noticed on Amazon that this book is “volume 1” of something. I can only hope that means that more books of this caliber are coming soon.
As you read A Touch of the Infinite, you can feel Mason’s overarching narrative: music (as with any subject) is inspired by God. Training of the ear must begin in the early ages through Outdoor Life. Musical vocabulary must be given in small increments as the concept is encountered. Music is a language that we can all learn, to our varying degrees, regardless of natural proclivity. Music tells stories that we can comprehend. Music helps us understand place, time, nature, and culture. It is important for children to build relationships with music and musicians. Can’t you hear the echoes? They resonate throughout.
But Hoyt does not only deal with principles; she gives readers the tools they need to be able to implement music appreciation and applied music with fidelity and success. Notice I did not say “composer study.” I hope that Hoyt’s book will bring music study back from the fringe of the curriculum and herald the end of the misconception that listening to six pieces by a composer allows us to check music off our list. Just as with every other subject, appreciation of and skill in music requires cultivation and practice, and it should be a part of our everyday way of living. A child cannot develop a relationship with a piece of music by hearing it once or by having it play in the background during quiet times. There are things we need to do, and Hoyt tells us what those things are. She describes solfege and basic sight-singing, using the ideas of Annie Jessy Curwen and Percy Scholes (whose books appear consistently in the PNEU programmes). She also includes short biographies as studies in citizenship, time, and place. And while she spends most of her time on classical music, I appreciated that she does not claim that classical is the only music of value and beauty.
One thing she does very well is to update what needs to be updated for our own time and place. We do not live in Victorian England, after all, and so I loved the fact that Hoyt included the study of our multi-cultural American folk songs. But when she got to Ragtime, Jazz and The Blues, I almost jumped out of my chair! Yes! The world has not stood still for the last 100 years. Music has continued to evolve, and these are genres that are uniquely American; they help tell our story every bit as well as folk songs. In fact, I suppose those really are types of American folk music, if we define folk songs as the music by common people that describes their experience. Now why didn’t I think of that? I’m not sure, but I’m glad Hoyt did.
If I could add one chapter to Hoyt’s book, it would be about current research that supports the study of music and how it affects the brain. But that’s just because I’m a researcher at heart. In the end, it’s alright, because Hoyt didn’t write this book for academics. She wrote it for the people who are trying to work out Mason’s ideas while also trying to implement them–no small feat. There is so much practical information in this volume that I am sure you will find yourself coming back to it again and again as your children grow. This one is a keeper. Now I am very happy to have two books on Mason’s methods that I can joyfully recommend to people.
© 2016 by Jennifer Spencer