Halloween listening (in any subject)

Yes, Halloween is very North American, but it seems that the tradition of costumes, candy, and spooky things is seeping into many other places as well. And if you want to weave a bit of Halloween fun into your lessons this week, here are a few pieces you might consider:

Danse Macabre – Inspired by an old French superstition, Henri Cazalis’ poem was first composed as a song and then expanded into Camille Saint-Saens’ well-known tone poem. A great example of communication through music for you PYP Music teachers, this orchestral piece tells the story of Death (a solo violin with a special tritone tuning) calling the dead from their graves for a dance of death on Halloween. Students could work backwards and create a poem based on the piece, or they could try to match each line of the original poem to elements of the composition.

The Banshee – Henry Cowell uses a specially prepared piano (which is of great interest all its own) to express the howling of the banshee, a creature that warns a family of an impending death. I love to introduce this piece to my students to expand their ideas of what music can be, and how we can use instruments in less conventional ways. An inquiry into how the sounds might be made, or what instrument it is, fits nicely into many different PYP units, depending on the concept you link it to. My students often don’t know what a banshee is, so it’s fun just having them listen and then explain or draw what they think the title means.

Symphonie Fantastique: Dream of the Night of the Sabbath – Hector Berlioz wasn’t thinking of Halloween when he composed this, but I’ll be your students can hear the witches and monsters, the groans and the shouts, in the menacing setting of this piece. Music teachers can use this piece to teach about motive (Dies irae and idée fixe) or instrumental effects. This piece really lends itself to creative writing, but don’t stop there. This piece could inspire some great reader’s theatre, giving students a context in which to practice script writing, fluency, and a host of other writing and oral skills.

Halloween-listening-lessons-music-creative-writing-inquiryNight on a Bald Mountain – Modest Mussorgsky’s famous piece, animated for Disney’s original Fantasia, also conjures up some wonderful images of scary, mythical creatures and demons (if you dare to go there). This tone poem has some wonderful textures in it. Classroom teachers could use this piece to inspire creative writing: writing stories, or even just making a word wall of exciting adjectives! Art teachers could make connections to musical textures/colors, create a group mural, or perhaps a picture book with individual students’ interpretations. In Music, the students can describe how the elements are used to express the different parts of the story.

In the Hall of the Mountain King – Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites tell a story all together, but this particular segment tells a bit of a spooky story which is clear to even the youngest students through the sneaky, repetitive motive that repeats over and over, getting faster and louder throughout the piece. Children love to move to this piece, but it is also a great piece to use when learning about dynamics, tempo, use of a motive/theme, or the instrument families. The theme is simple eighths and quarters, so you could even have the students follow along with the “ti-ti ti-ti ti-ti ta” rhythm! Students could graph how many times each instrumental section or family plays the theme. Young artists might try to show the many iterations symbolically, graphically, or even creating a kind of graphic score that shows tempo and dynamic changes.

Thriller – Okay, I love Michael Jackson’s music from the 80’s, so I had to include this one. I’ve used it before to have students move “like zombies” to the beat, but I’m also formulating a lesson where we analyze the lyrics a bit and talk about descriptive language and imagery. Classroom teachers, there’s a great one for you!

This is just a small sampling of how you might infuse a little seasonal fun into your inquiry. As a music teacher, I often find that classroom teachers don’t realize how easily they can incorporate my subject into their inquiries, but I think if we show them, they would love to take it on. I’d love to hear your ideas about how you collaborate with other teachers!

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