Thursday, December 22, 2005

Rabbit Trail Story: The Phantom of the Opera

This blog entry is a typical homeschooling “rabbit trail” story.

In the past when I have read books about homeschooling, specifically the type where a family tells their own story, there are tales of rabbit trails. I don’t think that all homeschooling families follow rabbit trails. Some rabbit trails seem more academic than others, on the surface. Of those who do, a common challenge is knowing when to stop and when to get back on the main path. Rabbit trails are a major source of the studies for unschooling families. Rabbit trails can be fun and you never know where they will lead or if they will quickly become dead ends. I like to follow rabbit trails and am not disappointed when they end or hit a dead end. If the rabbit trail keeps going and it is not taking over our lives, meaning it is not hindering other studies over the long term then I think it is a healthy thing to experience. Rabbit trails can’t really be planned, they begin spontaneously but following the trail can take effort and work or planning.

Our Current Rabbit Trail: The Phantom of the Opera

Background Info
To explain what one is, if you don’t know, read this story and you will understand.

In 1993 I went to Chicago with an architecture class from college. We were studying the architecture by being in it and around it. We did a bit of research before we went on the trip. We each had to give presentations on certain Chicago history and landmarks. We also had to write a long research paper. We then walked miles and miles around Chicago, stopping to view certain buildings. Some lectures were given by students and other times the teacher (an architect) would educate us about the buildings.

While in Chicago we visited the Opera House. We were offered student discount tickets to see the show that night, which happened to be Phantom of the Opera. A friend and I decided to go. She had brought dresses and we decided to dress in very nice dresses. I borrowed her dress and shoes and we even wore gloves. We had some champagne before the show and went off to see it. We were both overcome by the emotions of the story and were teary-eyed as we watched it.

When I got home I purchased the soundtrack from the London version of the musical. I listened to this over and over.

I read the novel in 1994 or 1995 and it was interesting to see how the book and musical were different. I turned the book in to a used book store for credit when I was done. (I now regret that decision.)

I chose one of the songs as my wedding song a couple of years later—“All I Ask of You”. The fact that the main female character’s name is the same as mine and is mentioned in the song is a pure coincidence.

In 1997 while very pregnant I got to see the New York production of the show, a guest of a salesperson whom my husband did business with. This was my last nice night on the town before I became a mother. My chapter with Phantom closed at that point.

When my older son was four I took out the soundtrack and tried listening to it in the car. My son was scared when he heard the powerful organ music so I was unable to hear it.

Three years ago, I found a children’s picture book abridged version of the story in a used book store. I bought it. My older son was five at the time and looked at the pictures. He was afraid of them. He begged me to read the long story to him. I shortened it up. The pictures still scared him, and I had to hide the book as a result.

In 2003 I found a great book about the story of the musical with photographs at a library sale. I bought it and put it away. (Yesterday I was unable to find it, it is stored in a box with other books which I don’t have room for on my bookshelves!)

Now About The Movie
A month ago my friend told me that the musical was closing on Broadway and she wanted me to go see it with her. She remembered that I loved Phantom in the past. I agreed to go. We made plans to buy tickets at a discount. I could not believe the show was closing. (I now was told it is not really closing.)

A couple of days later my friend and neighbor said she had watched the movie version. Honestly I knew a movie was being made but I am so out of the loop with movies and what is going on in Hollywood that I didn’t know it had already come out. I would have loved to see this on the big screen. Anyway my friend said she borrowed the movie from our town library. I decided to watch the movie. I picked a day that I was very sick with a head cold and could not do my usual homeschooling routine with the kids. I was so sick I just wanted to lie in bed all day and rest. I decided to watch the movie.

I had a challenge though, as the kids were home. I decided to let them watch it if they wanted to. They watched the movie with me. I paused the movie to explain certain parts to them as the story unfolded. Honestly I didn’t recall the scene where the man is hanged or I may have not wanted them to see it. They both loved the movie and the haunting music. Unfortunately the library's copy did not come with the second bonus material disc. I would love to own the DVD with the bonus material. I love to hear and learn the background information, as do my children.


I took out my muscial soundtrack from the London cast, from 1987, and we have been listening to it while in the house and while driving in the car. Each child has their favorite tracks. They are quoting the songs and singing them out loud throughout the day. They are also asking the meaning of certain lines such as, “Spare me these unending trials!” We own the 2 CD set which has more tracks on it than the 'highlights' audio CD.


Yesterday I borrowed the movie again. I’d like to watch it again. If they want to see it with me, they can. (Postscript: We were too busy to watch it again and had to return it. I really want to buy it so we can have it here to view at our leisure!)

I thought I had remembered buying the book about the musical. I checked my bookshelf with books about music and operas, and it was not there. I checked my book database on the computer and found all the information about the book. I looked in a box of music books that I have stored in a closet and it was not there. I am perplexed as to where this book is. I did find the children’s book about the story in there and took it out.

I showed the book to my kids. They begged for me to read it aloud, which I did yesterday.

We have been discussing how the movie is different from the children’s book. I explain to them how something like a musical or a movie which is adapted from a book has changes in it. One example is that the crashing down of the chandelier is very different in the musical (and original book) than in the movie. We also discussed how the special effects are different for the movie vs. the stage production.

Now if I really want to go crazy I could turn this into a unit study in which we study Paris, France at the time period that the story took place.

My husband asked if I should change plans for seeing the musical to include taking my older son. The tickets are already purchased and it is too late for that. However we decided that when he gets a job, all four of us will go see the show together. I was wondering if my five year old would sit still during the show. I now think that it would be so captivating, especially if he knows the songs and the storyline, that he would be fine.

I also checked our library to see if they had audio recordings of musicals other than the London production; they did not. I am going to check larger libraries in the area. I’d like to hear how different singers sound and if they changed the story around at all (as was the case with a few things in different productions of “Les Miserables”).

Should Children Be Exposed to Phantom?
I am sure that some parents would think that exposing children to this story is over the top and that the story is too mature for them. I beg to differ. This a classic tragic hero story, and it is just a great story. The music is wonderful and inspiring. I would not have shown this to my children if my oldest was five, but since my younger son is five, he sees it along with the older child.

We also discussed the larger issues in the story such as the way society treats a person who has a deformity. We also discussed the sins such as the murders that took place in the movie.

This is a constant challenge—figuring age appropriate material when there is more than one child in the family. A couple of people have told me that they tailor their family’s experiences to the youngest aged child, I think that by doing this the older child misses out on a lot and in the very least would miss out on what other children his age are currently doing such as reading Harry Potter books or other things like that. As it is my older child is still happy to sit and watch Barney which is pretty surprising considering my younger son is already saying, “That is a baby show”. I don’t know where kids get these ideas from but it really is a show tailored to children aged four and younger, so I can’t argue with him as it is the truth!

Mainstream parents are showing children of this age (8 and younger), television shows and movies which have what I consider to be inappropriate content: shows with rude behavior glamorized, where children backtalk adults, where adults are portrayed as stupid and the children ‘cool’. So many shows are lacking morals, or are glamorizing things such as breaking rules or breaking the law. Many shows contain sexual innuendo or are pushing sexual topics down to characters who are too young to be experiencing it. One example: The Suite Life with Cody and Zack on the Disney channel is about two eight year old’s and they talk about and tease each other for not having dates. Some children this age are routinely shown movies with a PG or PG-13 rating, and some I know even see R-rated movies. One family I know showed the Spiderman PG-13 movie that contained a bloody murder scene to children aged 3.5 and 5 and then followed up with a Spiderman themed birthday party for the 4th birthday party. They later purchased the DVD for home viewing and it has been watched repeatedly by the children. Now that, I think, is inappropriate. Some children listen to music on the radio which is filled with sexual references, and some own music CDs which are purchased by the parents which contain mature themes and even profanity!

I am happy to share “The Phantom of the Opera” with my sons. We are having a ball with it!

1 comment:

cinnamon said...

Hi! I just discovered your blog this morning. My love affair with the Phantom of the Opera started just with the 2004 movie, but now we are watching, listening, and (soon) reading all we can about it. My girls are 7 and 10 and they love it (I do edit one small scene for them). I would much rather have them watching these sorts of movies with me than the latest PG-rated "family" junk that Hollywood puts out.