A Halloween Tone Poem

My last post catered to those who are trying to teach to a classroom full of tiny pirates and princesses. If you want to give a nod to Halloween, but you are fortunate enough to have classes that aren’t bouncing off the walls, it’s always a good time of year to pull out Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre.

Based on a poem describing Death leading the midnight dance, the orchestral version is a wonderful demonstration of how instruments and composition can tell a story and depict characters. The character of Death, for example, is played by the solo violin. After we hear the clock strike midnight (12 notes on the harp), he rouses the skeletons to dance. Listening to the piece, one can easily visualize the characters and their dance through the graveyard. It becomes increasingly energetic, using a Fossils-inspired motive, recurring themes, and counterpoint to create an exciting tone poem that would engage any listener. The rooster (oboe) interrupts to alert them to the sunrise, and we hear the skeletons return to their graves.

I often use a listening map with this piece. With older students, I also have them identify themes and instruments as they listen. However you use it, I highly recommend exposing your students to this fantastic composition!

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