Spotted in Manila, 2014

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sorcerer's Apprentice

This whole year, my teaching partner and I have purposefully avoided teaching a lesson with a 2nd graders about music as a narrative or story telling. Our goal in teaching is to always have the students listening to the techniques in a piece of music and to treat the piece as a work of art that stands alone, rather than a piece which assists a visual, written, or dramatic work of art. The incredibly imaginative students at PS 11 already do this kind of story telling on their own when they listen to music, any way.

But today for our final lesson before we begin working on our year-end culminating project, we introduced the term Tone Poem as a way that music tells a story to be paired with a piece of drama, film, literature, or visual art.

We began or lesson by listening to musically contrasting sections of Paul Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice, and to review the techniques and topics we have studied this year, the students were asked to describe the music in terms of dynamics, instrumentation, pitch, tempo, and shape. Next, using visual art, the students story boards and comic strips as they listened to the entirety of Sorcerer's Apprentice. They were asked to create any story to match the music they heard, about anything, as long as they could explain their choices using descriptions of the corresponding music.

As the students shared their drawings while speaking their stories over the matching music that played, I was so amazed at the themes that every story shared. Even without discussing during the activity, and having no previous experience with the piece of music, each story had elements of magic and angst, followed by struggle and then resolution. Each student heard these characters in the music alone.

These commonalities made for an even more impactful viewing experience when we finished the class by watching Walt Disney's famous animated version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia (1940). Although the students had never seen this cartoon, they were amazed at the similarities between Disney's interpretation of the piece, and their own (as was I).

To me, this is a credit to the fascinating ability children have to listen to a piece of music without bias, but instead colorful, limitless imagination.

Here are a few examples of the drawings done by the students.

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