Music Appreciation – holiday homework exercise

image from cheezburger.com

Over the summer holiday, some of my students did a piece of homework designed to encourage them to listen to, and (hopefully) enjoy and appreciate classical music. Far too many people think classical music is boring, difficult to listen to, or only suitable for clever people. Wrong. Classical music is full of variety, of moods, textures, sound ‘stories’ – there is, quite literally, something for everything in the great oeuvre of classical music.

Children are often more receptive to music than adults, partly because they haven’t had a chance to develop pre-conceived ideas about what they will and won’t like. Many of my students (whose ages range from 7 to 14 – not including adult students) have learnt 20th-century repertoire by composers such as Bartok, Kabalevsky, Stravinsky and Pärt, and have really enjoyed it. The atonal nature of some of this music doesn’t seem to bother them in the least; in fact, some have commented that they really like it because it seems “a bit jazzy”.

For this piece of homework, I gave the students five pieces to listen to. They were to listen to all the pieces and then select one to write about (see the original post here). Their written responses were to be based on these questions, which were phrased to get them to really think about what they had been listening to:

  • What do you think this music is about?
  • What kind of pictures/stories does the music suggest to you?
  • What things do you really like about this piece?
  • What don’t you like about this music?
  • Do you think hearing this music will inspire you to listen to another piece by this composer?

I promised my students that I would put some of their responses on my blog, and here they are:

‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner

Since aircraft were not invented when this piece was written, it can’t be about helicopters* or planes. Instead, it might be about some sort of mythical character or creature. It suggests large creatures or beings. It is fast and exciting (unlike most classical music). It really paints an image. It is quite repetitive and needs to add something new.
(Laurie)

(*Laurie knew of the iconic scene from the film Apocalypse Now! in which a squadron of Huey helicopters fly into a Vietnamese village with Ride of the Valkyries blaring from speakers mounted aboard them.)

‘Autumn’ (3rd movt) from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi

The clue is in the title, so I think this piece is about Autumn time. The kind of pictures that this piece suggests to me are of people running along the pavements in the autumn, there is a strong wind and leaves have fallen off the trees and are now on the ground. I usually like really fast and enthusiastic pieces, so I love this. This piece goes from loud and fast to quiet and slightly slower. It makes me look forward to the arrival of autumn. What I don’t like about this piece is that I find it rather repetitive near the beginning, but except for that, I love this piece. I will definitely listen to the rest of The Four Seasons. (I chose this piece over and above the others because when I was studying for my Grade 1 exam, I chose to play this piece! (Tilde)

‘Morning’ from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg

I think this piece is about morning in the springtime. I imagine young baby deer running around, birds flying. When the music gets louder and more dramatic, I see big trees with deer running through them. The music is relaxing and interesting. (Lottie)

I think this music is set in the morning in the country. It reminds me of a small cosy cottage on the Isle of Wight. I like this music because it is soft, gentle and relaxing. There is nothing I don’t like about this music. Yes, I would love to hear more music from ‘Peer Gynt’ (Sam)

Teachers: please feel free to use this as a template for a similar piece of ‘music appreciation’ homework/study.

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