Spotted in Manila, 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Welcome, Spring!

After what seemed like a winter that would never end, spring has finally arrived in NYC! We welcomed spring in my 2nd grade class by studying Antonio Vivaldi's masterpiece, the Four Seasons.

Maybe I missed the day in my college music history class when we learned that Vivaldi composed the piece based on poems that he wrote about Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. I only learned this a few weeks ago, and my partner teachers and I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to incorporate the students' recent study of poetry, into my own lesson about music; I have found that combining multiple mediums for expression allows for more students to feel comfortable sharing their strengths and insights. To do this, over the course of two weeks, as a class we:

  • Considered musical ways one might choose to read Vivaldi's poem, Winter (tempo, accents, emphasis, pitch, mood, and pause)
  • Observed how Vivaldi makes these choices in the Winter movement of the Four Seasons music, as well as how he evokes the sounds of the season winter in the violin
  • Created a list of images and sounds that represent the season spring to us
  • Wrote poems based on this list that capture the sounds and moods of the season spring
  • Learned new terms, Concerto and Soloist, and how Vivaldi's Four Seasons is an example of a violin concerto

All of this preparation culminated in a small-group composition project. In each group, one member was a soloist who read aloud a poem which borrowed lines from each member's individual poem. Then, the other three members made up the orchestra, who accompanied the reading soloist with chosen sounds of spring as layered ostinati. The rehearsals and performances of the group compositions had the room filled with the music of bees buzzing, rain pattering, birds calling, and breeze blowing, and as usual, I was astounded at the well rehearsed, thoughtful pieces that these young composers presented. 

The lesson concluded with a class reading of Vivaldi's poem, Spring, and observational listening to the Spring movement of the Four Seasons. I was not surprised when the students provided very astute observations about the piece--noticing Vivaldi's sound-painting techniques of having the violin imitate the sounds of birds, and the bass imitating a thunderstorm. This is a technique so many composers use and considering a composer's sound-painting is a way that music theorists analyze masterworks. But my 2nd graders' ability to hear it all so easily reminded me of the genuine and imaginative ears that children naturally have when listening to music. It was quite refreshing to witness their discovery. 

I think this lesson was made so successful because of the students' knowledge and love for poetry. Here are some of the great, descriptive poems that the students wrote.

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