When you attend a classical concert you are often given a booklet that lists the order of performance that evening, as well as some notes on the composers, pieces, and performers.
My students prepared a beautiful booklet of program notes for their June recital. In the weeks leading up to the recital we talked about the composer, and I asked the students to find their composer on the time line on the wall of my teaching studio. One of the questions I often ask is, “Is he dead?” Then we talked about the time period in which he/she lived, the instruments they would have had available, the musical style, the structure of the piece, and the meaning of the title. [Don’t tell, but they were learning history and analysis.]
My students’ ages range from 5 years old to adult. Some of the works they play were written by composers born in the 1600s. I think that understanding the context of a piece written over 400 years ago is important to be able to perform it well. Sometimes we really have to sleuth to find out details about the composer. Other times we find out the composer is alive and well and living right here in Ottawa.