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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

Where's Joseph? He's HAYDN! Surprise!

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Haydn's Symphony No. 94, the "Surprise Symphony" - especially the 2nd movement. If you're not, indulge yourself for a few moments and check it out below:

Now that you've calmed yourself down from the heart attack that would have occured around 34 seconds in, you might be thinking (much as I did) "wow, what a great piece of music to analyse with my kids" and you'd be right!

This piece is great for looking at form (both the overall form of the movement and the form within each phrase or section) and is also perfect for introducing arpeggios and harmonic function. It even works to do a solfa analysis for your intermediate students (ones who have recently discovered do).

I love revisiting this piece of music a number of times a term, even going so far as to create a whole unit on it! (Props must go to the wonderful Karyn Vezos for a number of these activities)

The first experience students will have with this work in the classroom is to come in and discover a big box in the middle of the room. "What's in the box?" they ask. "A surprise. Haydn's Surprise Symphony", In actual fact it is a whole heap of silk scarves (I've fashioned my own out of lengths of velour cloth in different colours) which the students will hold in each hand and sway back and forth in an upwards motion whenever the music is ascending and a downwards motion whenever the music is descending. When they think they hear the surprise they can throw their scarves in the air. After the laughter and squealing of the surprise has died down, students can have another listen and start to look for patterns.

The next time they hear it might not be until the next lesson, or even a few weeks later. The students then analyse the form, realising there is a broad pattern of A and B sections with variations (whether or not you hear the surprise, minor variations etc.). Then encourage them to zoom in and look at the first phrase: A B A C (which repeats with a surprise the second time).

The third time they encounter it, set them the challenge of working out the solfa of the mini A section (do do mi mi so so mi).

In later lessons they can play this on a xylophone or recorder. Show them the sheet music and have them recognise which section it belongs to. Of course, come back to the scarf dance at the end, because music should always be enjoyable.

One of the best tips I ever came across in my Kodaly studies was to always put the music back into a context that has meaning for the children once it has been picked apart and analysed. If you have sung a song in solfa, sing it once more in text. If you have clapped the rhythm, or spoken the rhythm names, add pitch back into the song.

If reading sheet music and analysing form of a Haydn symphony, return to the silk scarves dance that made it so engaging for the kids in the first place!

Through continuously revisiting the music like this, it allows a greater degree of familiarity with the work and a depth of learning among your students that simply does not occur with a single fleeting encounter. Don't worry that the students will get bored with it, if anything most of them thrive on being able to recognise the piece and hum along!

You can download an education pack chock full of resources for the Surprise Symphony at my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

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