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DON'T be quiet, please! Music at the Museum

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

If you were to name a place where you are asked to stay quiet you would probably say "library" or "museum". While making music from the ideas one gets from visual impressions is something that people do every once in a while, one mother took it to a whole new level: She takes her children right to the museums on a regular basis and asks them: "What do you hear?"


Picture: Mehreen Tanvir and her two children enjoying Wassily Kandinsky's "Dominant Curve" (Photo: Mehreen Tanvir)



Music and Art

Although both are part of the "arts", music and visual art are not that often getting connected. Especially in terms of school subjects people like to separate the "scientific subjects" (like maths, physics, biology) from the "creative subjects" like arts, acting and music class. They are very similar then, right? So why do we still see so many differences between being a visual artist and a performing musician?


One big thing that these two have in common is the creative process (by the way, also in science it is quite similar). Here are some aspects that can be found in both, the painter and the songwriter:

  • creating something from nothing (painter the blank page, songwriter the blank note sheet)

  • connecting old ideas and techniques to new ones

  • possibility of simply copying other peoples art/music or...

  • ... creating your own, new creative piece

  • you can start both with zero technique and gradually get better over time

  • being surrounded by a field of other experts of your craft (other painters, musicians)

  • doing the craft just for yourself or present it to an audience (exhibitions, concerts)

Very easily we could find many more similarities here, but we think that we made our point clear: many processes are the same! The difference lies only in the materials used and the senses through which you perceive the art.



What's to Hear in Art

Did you ever see a painting and thought: "That looks nice"? Many of us made that experience. And have you also ever looked at a painting thinking: "Wow, that sounds amazing!"? Probably not. But why not? Through music and listening we can perceive a painting with more senses than just that of vision.


When we first saw the work of Mehreen Tanvir (she probably wouldn't call it work), we thought: "how nice, she does the same as we do, just for visual art". On her Instagram page you can see that she regularly tries to bring her children and art together. Through a process she calls "sharing ideas and advocating four kids to learn and play in museums and cultural spaces", Mehreen surrounds her children with a safe and playful environment to discover the world of art.


This way of working can also be found in our approach of introducing children to music. We contacted her and she offered us an even better technique of teaching: Connecting music with art.


"We sometimes play a game where when we see an artwork I ask them what they hear when they see it and my kids sometimes make songs or music that they think they would hear if they were in the painting."

Here you can see her daughter describing what she hears in a painting:


(Video: Mehreen Tanvir)



"I ask a mix of questions",

she says. "And sometimes in reverse, too, at home if we hear some music we try to draw it or express the music in colors (like the artist Kandinsky)."


We though all this is a wonderful idea of looking at artworks from a different angle, literally by changing to a whole different sense: listening. But the question that baffled us right away was the problem of being loud in a museum.


"No one ever complained about the noise from the singing. We were mindful of not doing this where there was someone who was intently looking at art or if we thought we would interrupt a tour or something. Usually we found a quiet corner or room to ourselves. Lots of times we had amused security guards who got a laugh from our singing."

Picture: Mehreen Tanvir and her two children looking at Wassily Kandinsky's "Several Circles" (Photo: Mehreen Tanvir)



The Right Questions

So what ideas can we gather from this for teaching music to children? Very simply, we could just present them artworks and ask them the same questions that Mehreen asks her kids:

  • What do you hear when you look at this?

  • What would you hear when you were in the painting?

  • What sounds do these people/objects in the painting make?

  • Can you make fitting sounds to the things you see? (for example for abstract paintings or images with people or movement)

Depending on what type of artwork you present you will get lots of different "musical answers". Encourage the child to make sounds, melodies, rhythms and everything that is connected to music.



 

Want to play some artwork games with your child, too?

We put together some printable sheets for you, that you can download here:




 


When choosing the right piece of art there is of course also the possibility of just simply showing something that visually has music in it. In the painting "Three Musicians¹" by Pablo Picasso you see, well, three musicians.

What seems quite obvious actually has a lot to explore for children. The Philadelphia Museum of Art gives ideas for a few questions² you can ask here as an educator:

  • How many people do you see? What are they wearing? Look for a violin, clarinet, accordion, and drinking glass.

  • What kind of music could they be playing?

  • Do you think they are friends? Why or why not?

The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) also offers some interesting questions³ to work with this painting:

  • How many musicians are there? How has Picasso depicted these musicians? What material has he used?

  • Where might these musicians be performing? What kind of music do you think they are playing?

Whatever you ask, give the child the possibility to express creativity. If they show difficulties, just try to give some hints or examples. You will see that over time children get very creative with this method and have a lot of fun composing sounds and music.


More from Mehreen ("Mom at the Museum")

Website: https://momatthemuseum.com

Instagra Mehreen and her two children enjoying WassilyTanvirTanvir Kandinsky's "Dominant Curve" (Photo: Mehreen Tanvir)


 

Sources:

¹https://philamuseum.org/collection/object/53963 (© Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

²https://philamuseum.org/doc_downloads/education/object_resources/53963.pdf

³https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/meetme/Modules_6.pdf


 

How can I find music activities?

Find more activities like these on our website: https://www.paupa.org


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