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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

The Nutcracker - a Christmas Listening Lesson

I'm sure you're familiar with the feeling - Christmas is fast approaching, which means school holidays are just around the corner. And, despite the fact that the kids can sense this too and they (as well as you, let's be honest) have mentally packed up for the year, you're all still stuck at school together for a few more weeks.

I love this time because it means that all the assessments and report-writing is over but we still have some time together to make music and have fun! Rather than seeing it as "babysitting time" I look at this as a golden opportunity to have some lessons of sheer fun with my students - no worksheets, theory etc. simply pure music making (and magically enough, still plenty of learning, but don't tell the kids that!)

One lesson I absolutely love giving is one based around Tchaikovsky's famous ballet "The Nutcracker". I start by reading the story of the Nutcracker to my students. The Story Orchestra has published a version with beautiful illustrations and a short musical sample on each page.

(I wrote a little bit more about this book as part of my Top 10 Lit Review which you can check out here)

As students are listening, I ask them to try and remember which musical sample went with which page of the story. We then do a little listening comprehension at the end of the story - playing some of the pieces of music from the Nutcracker and seeing if they can remember which page it matched up with.

The last example I play is the Trepak, or Russian dance. I then ask if students would like to learn a Russian dance that goes with this song (OMGYESLET"SDOIT!!!!!)

We then spend most of the rest of the lesson learning the moves to the Trepak and putting it together. Next year I'm hoping to do an en masse Trepak over lunchtime with ALL the students who have learned it! I just wonder if the school oval is big enough!

In case you're not familiar with the steps, they are as follows:

All students stand in a circle, paired off and facing their partner. There is an A section and a B section and the form goes A B Avar.

A section

Students spend 8 beats clapping:

- own hands

- high five partner with Right Hand

- own hands

- high five partner with Left Hand

- own hands

- high ten partner (both hands)

- own hands

- click fingers

Then students spend 8 beats turning slowly 180 degrees on the spot to face a new partner. Repeat the clapping and turning so that you perform the claps and turns a total of 4 times.

B section

Students clap their hands and hold them together in prayer pose, then side swipe their partner's hands with their own (apple on a stick style) three times. Repeat this one more time.

Then students change partner by walking forwards in tiny steps for 8 beats on to the next person (this often needs practice as many get confused by the fact that "forwards" for them is not the same direction as "forwards" for their partner).

Perform the B section a total of 3 times, before returning to the A section twice. On the final iteration of the A section, instead of just turning to face a new partner, students keep turning on the spot, faster and faster in time with the music before stamping one foot into the middle of the circle on the final chord.

This is a great dance and so much fun when everyone falls in a dizzy heap at the end! What a wonderful way to end the year with your students!

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