As the nights draw in and Autumn is well and truly here Lisa Mayo, Head of Gloucestershire Music and the County’s Singing Champion reflects on some of her favourite seasonal music lessons and highlights some resources that might help to give you some inspiration for your own lessons and singing activities in the next half term…
I love Autumn and enjoy getting back into my woollies and boots and going for lovely long walks in the countryside witnessing all the beautiful changing colours of the leaves. Likewise in school, I found this time of year really inspiring for children and it seemed easier for them to be creative when composing and more emotive and reflective when listening to music.
With wonderful, imaginative and stimulating dates such as Halloween and Bonfire Night there is no better time to get children listening, composing and performing. I used to pop down to the ‘pound’ shops in town and deck my classroom out with cobwebs, light-up pumpkins and some creepy surprises that would keep the classes guessing and I had some of the best and most memorable lessons in my career! When you have fun with music then so will the children!
So I’ve put some ideas together as a mere lighting of the touch paper to maybe give you some inspiration for planning some fab and fun lessons of your own after half term! If you have some favourite seasonal lessons that you would be happy to share then we’d love to hear about them – so send them into me by email and we’ll share them on the Make Music Gloucestershire website.
Death is up there on most composers’ radars as a worthy inspiration. Saint-Saëns happened on the subject in the early 1870s, originally setting to music a strange, art-house poem by Henri Cazalis, which has the first line ‘Zig, zig, zig, death in cadence’. Originally it was for voice and piano but, thankfully, Saint-Saëns reworked it a couple of years later, substituting a violin for the voice and adding the full orchestra. When it was premiered at one of the Parisian Châtelet concerts (these took place in the Théâtre du Châtelet) it was immediately encored in full. Since then, it has remained one of Saint-Saëns’s most popular pieces, with television providing endless opportunities to hear it again in theme tunes.
There’s a whole narrative that unfolds in the piece, with the violin representing death himself and the story starting at midnight – hence the twelve chiming opening notes. So it was completely appropriate that the piece was chosen to open the Bafta-winning mystery crime series, from 1997 to 2013. It starred Alan Davies as the magician’s assistant who solves apparently supernatural mysteries using his knowledge of trickery.
If you type ‘lesson plans for Danse Macabre’ into any search engine you will find many resources, lesson plans, PowerPoints etc. that you can download for free or give you ideas for creating your own.
This is also a great piece for introducing children to graphic score, as they can start to respond to the music by finding shapes and symbols to help represent features such as changes in dynamics, texture and identifying structure and theme repetition and variation.
I used to love doing this lesson with Year 7 students (but you could easily do this piece with KS2 students as well) – here is a taster of how the lesson used to pan out!:
The students had to come into the classroom in silence, as I had the lights off and the classroom lit with my halloween fun lights (obviously PAT tested in advance!) and some spooky film music playing!
I would start to teach them a couple of spooky / fun songs at the beginning and then I would ask them to sit and listen to Danse Macabre whilst I told them the story. I tended to make up my own story based around the poem, as I felt this worked a little better! At the end I asked them ‘which their favourite parts of the piece were?’…’what instruments they could identify?’ (especially ‘which instrument plays the clock chimes at the start’ and ‘which instrument represents the cockerel at the end?’ etc.).
I would display the themes in notation on the board for the visual learners and to help develop their music reading skills. I would also play them the separate themes so they could familiarise themselves with the characteristics of each one in order for them to be able to identify them and tell them apart. This was a great opportunity to introduce terminology such as stepwise/leapy melodic lines; spiky/smooth rhythms and textures; accidentals and chromatic notes. We’d look at videos and pictures of the instrumentation (or have live demos if the instruments were available) that played the key themes and discussed the techniques involved and the parts of the orchestra they belonged to.
Then I used to spend time at the end of the lesson where we would clear the tables away and I would get them into separate groups to represent each theme. Then they would have to create a group tableau / freeze frame (creating an image conjured up from the poem) and then from a sitting position on the floor in their groups I would play the piece from the start and they would have to all work as a team in their groups to listen out for their theme and spring up into their freeze frame when the could hear their theme being played. It was quite a good method to see who was really confident with their understanding of the themes that they had been taught and who were still not quite sure! This group activity helps the less able to build in listening skills and confidence as well as developing those more able as group ‘conductors’. Some of the themes are quite similar so there is certainly an element of challenge there!
The Others (Film Soundtrack):
This is probably more appropriate for secondary age students, as it is quite creepy in parts(!) but it has wonderful instrumentation and techniques to get the pupils to try and identify, especially in the main theme of ‘The Others’ and ‘Wakey, Wakey’ i.e. bass clarinet, flute (in it’s lower range), cor anglais, tremolo strings, pedals etc. and has some more unusual keyboard and sting instruments to keep them guessing for a while! ‘They are Everywhere’ – has frantic orchestral textures and wonderful dissonant moments at the opening. Also the child humming the nursery rhyme in ‘Communion Dress’ is particularly creepy in true horror pastiche and this is followed by the huge swell of the roaring orchestra with more dissonance and polyphonic textures. You have been warned!
You can then introduce the pupils to some of the classic horror film musical concepts following the listening exercise:
- pedals (extreme pitch range i.e. bottom C and top C)
- chromatic melodic ostinati
- dynamic extremes
- unpredictable pulse / use of rests / unpredictable rhythms – to keep the listener on their toes and to build the tension
- changing nursery rhymes from major into minor or model tonality
- …and for once I used to let them include some ‘appropriate’ sound fx if they had included all the compositional basics!
Ask the pupils to compose their own short piece of horror film music by using some of these techniques. When they perform their pieces to each other their peers can use an agreed score rating to credit the techniques they have used from the list and then give a bonus mark for the ‘scare factor’!
The ‘Harry Potter’ film music is also a gem at this time of year, especially ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, which is a great melody to learn to play and a wonderful track to listen to with the magical celesta playing the theme in the opening!
There are lots of great resources out there to help Primary Teachers start singing more with their pupils. Singing doesn’t have to be given a designated ‘slot’ in the weekly timetable (although every school should have a fab singing club for the children to attend!), it should be integrated into their daily lives to enhance their academic experiences in every subject and help them to learn in a creative and motivating way. I wanted to highlight some of the resources on offer from Out of the Ark in this blog (although there are many other companies out there that also provide fantastic resources such as Sing Up, Singing Sherlock, Charanga etc.) and pass on some suggestions from them for some pieces which might be appropriate at this time of year.
I would love us to have some feedback from teachers in our county who have some suggestions about pieces that they sing with their children and have a great response from, as it can help others to be inspired and save time in searching for the ‘best’ songs to do in the next assembly…lesson…choir session. So please do pass on any of your ideas to me by email and we’ll start to share more and lessen the load for each other!
Song Bundles from Out of the Ark – Primary Singing Resources:
Are you looking for a selection of songs for your singing festivals or events? Perhaps you’d like a bundle of songs? Did you know that you can select songs from Out of the Ark’s various songbook titles? You can then even access selected songs via their Out of the Ark Music online account through the Words on Screen™ player – Singchronize®
Songs are available with:
- Printable music scores and lyric sheets
- Words on Screen™ element – interactive lyrics that synchronise with the vocal and backing tracks – making the songs easier to teach and learn.
- Downloadable MP3s
- Ability to stream or download the songs
- Ability to create an expandable library and playlists in your online account of single songs or titles.
- PLUS additional teaching notes for each song – where available.
If you’d like some more information about their song bundles do get in touch with Anna Edwards
A Few Fun Seasonal Songs:
|The Niki Davies Book Of Songs For Autumn And Winter||Pumpkin Head||· A great song, useful for looking at shapes and how to recognise them
· Perfect for younger ages
|Songs for EVERY Season||Conkers!||· A fun song which has become a firm favourite with children of all ages everywhere
· Celebrating the joy of conker collecting
Take a look at their blog post – Do you have what it takes to be a conker conqueror? http://www.outoftheark.co.uk/blog/do-you-have-what-it-takes-to-be-a-conker-conquerer/
|Songs for EVERY Season||Turn Back The Clocks|| • All the essential ingredients of Autumn rolled into a song
|A Combined Harvest||Picture Of Autumn|| • Full of lots of lovely Autumn vocabulary, a fabulous song to sing through the whole season
• Lots of scope for adding your own Autumn rhyming words to replace the verse lyrics
|The Niki Davies Calendar Of Songs||Crunching Through The Leaves|| · Perfect for Autumn, describing the sights and sounds of crunching leaves
• An excellent song to add untuned percussion to
Planning for Christmas Nativity / Concerts?
We’d love to hear about your plans for your musical Christmas events. Send us your photos, video or audio clips and let us share them on our Make Music Gloucestershire website so that we can start to show the rest of our county how wonderfully rich the singing is in our schools. So don’t be shy – be the first to get your school’s name ‘up in lights’ and share the achievements with your parents and pupils. Send any media along with a brief write up to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to post it on our website (please note: any media sent to us should have been checked for parental permissions in line with your school’s policy before sending it to us).
Have a wonderful Autumn and enjoy your festive music making in your schools!