One of my ongoing missions as a classroom music teacher is to introduce my students to a wide variety of musical styles and genres. In particular, Art music.
I once had a student teacher ask me why I didn't play more pop music in my classes. I answered that it's not my job to show students music they already hear on a daily basis. The Top 40 is everywhere. They hear it in the car on the way to and from school, in advertising, in movies...
Art music, however, most of them don't get exposed to very much. I aim to change that. In my experience, students don't dislike classical music, they simply need a "way in" to understanding and appreciating it. They pretty quickly see the value in it and can see why many of these pieces have passed the test of time.
In order to help them become the best musicians they can be, I want to provide them with the best examples of musicality that I can. And that's not to say that all pop music is of poor quality, it's just that the poor quality music of yesteryear has been lost to the annals of history, leaving us with nothing but the best. Contemporary pop music hasn't had a chance to undergo that sifting process yet.
So now that I've decided to play more Art music, how do I go about doing it? Do I play it in a passive way during a game of Freeze Dance for example? Personally, I like to make these examples more conscious. I could simply play them a piece of music because it is a great piece of music, and occasionally I will do listening journals with my older students where I ask them to write about the features they hear, or draw a series of panels showing what the music might be about.
However, the most powerful connections to a piece of music have been experienced when I can draw strong links to the musical elements we are studying at the time. So here are a number of works that tie into various rhythmic or melodic strategies, along with some activities I've done with them.
Taa & Ti-Ti = "In The Hall of the Mountain King" - Edvard Grieg
This piece is such a fantastic story-telling opportunity! Whilst I sometimes like to let the music speak for itself, this is one instance where I will take the time to give an overview of the story of Peer Gynt and where this music comes in the storyline.
We then pretend to be tiptoeing through the caves, stepping to the rhythm. Once the kids have got the hang of the pattern, they are told to tiptoe hunched over on every ti-ti, then stand up and freeze on every taa, as if they've just been caught. You can also add some fantastic dynamics and tempo elements in here, by having them hunch over more or less depending on how quiet it is. The tempo builds and builds until we're all running around like mad things! (amazingly though, this has never gotten out of hand, the children are always still focused on the music and the way it builds up!)
I once saw a workshop with the wonderful Kerryn Vezos where she tied the game "Who Stole The Cookie from the Cookie Jar" to this piece, by setting the cookie jar inside the Hall of the Mountain King!
So & Mi = "Polka Im Krapfenwald'l" (The Cuckoo Polka) - Johann Strauss II
Once my students are quite familiar with So & Mi, I love playing this piece for them right after we've learned the song Tick Tock (Goes The Little Clock), which is also prepping for saa.
From a folk song about Cuckoos with a fun game straight onto a piece of Art music all about cuckoos! How's that for a transition? I ask the kids to make a guess before they hear the music about how many times they will hear a cuckoo. Then, as they listen, they need to hand sign the "so-mi" of its call every time they hear it! This guarantees the kids are listening in rapt silence as the number of calls builds up and approaches (or maybe overtakes) their guess.
Saa = Symphony No. 7, mvt. 2 "Allegretto" - Ludwig Van Beethoven
This piece is so simple yet so brilliant! It is an absolute gem of a piece to analyse in terms of form, as it follows a repeated rhythmic pattern of taa, ti-ti, taa, taa over and over, mixing it up with a saa at the end of every fourth pattern.
This video is an excellent visual representation of the themes and rhythms throughout.
Tika-Tika = "Rondo Alla Turca" - W. A. Mozart
This is a piece that may be a little more familiar to some of your students. Even if it isn't, it's a great one for them to practise tika-tika AND learn about Rondo form while they're at it! The most common theme uses the following rhythm:
However, the first tika-tika is actually a pick up beat, so I can then bring this piece back later on when I'm teaching anacrusis!
Do = Symphony No. 94, 2nd mvt. "Surprise Symphony" - Joseph Haydn
This is another great piece to analyse form and start discussing arpeggios & triads now that your students know do. You can read about a full unit on the Surprise Symphony in more detail here.
I like to count the times I hear the solfa passage "so, so so. la so, so , mi" in any choral arrangement of Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming as it puts la in such a great and easily identifiable context.
The classic William Tell Overture contains ti-tikas or tika-tis aplenty (depending on whether you want to introduce the anacrusis concept or not).
As well as using Art music for practising elements, you can also do seasonal listening events, for example playing Danse Macabre at Halloween or excerpts from the Nutcracker in the lead up to Christmas
And, of course, sometimes you just want to share a piece because it's cool! I like showing this video of Waltz of the Flowers because it's just such a great way of visualising what you are hearing!
I also enjoy sewing these easy DIY flowers in different colours and sizes and using them with the kids to mark out the form of the piece.
Finally, Art music can be really fun to listen to, but it's also great to be an active participant. Why not add some body percussion or ostinati to them, like these fine examples?
Take Five - Dave Brubeck with a 5-step beanbag-passing routine
Waltz No. 2 - Dmitri Shostakovich With circular body percussion
What are your favourite pieces of Art music to listen to with your kids? Comment below, I'd love to hear your ideas!