Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Music Can Tell a Story: Theatrical Events

Another way music has long been used to tell a story is as part of a theatrical event. First it was the chorus in Greek plays. Then we had the operas all through the renaissance and on... And no, they aren't all about fat ladies singing. =D If you know the story and/or watch an English translation, they are quite entertaining!! Closer to our era the showtunes & Broadway musicals have swept the nation, and they are still going strong! (Think Phantom of the Opera & Wicked.) Children's movies- especially earlier Disney movies- were based on this principle, with many songs being used to tell the story. Finally, there is the source of the most popular newly-composed music of our day: the quite "functional" movie soundtrack. I'd say these ideas are appropriate for grade to middle school, or even high school. I'll have more suggestions for pre- and kindergarden soon! (they're my favorite age group to teach, so I'm saving them).

The following suggestions could be taken as chronological steps, each spanning a month or two. The soundtrack is very accessible if kids have seen the movie (often Disney soundtracks are pretty musically decent-- Mulan, Lion King, and The Little Mermaid especially. An added bonus is that each of these captures a "foreign" flair, which you can also tie into geography and world culture. But I list the soundtrack as the last "step" in this progression because it has no words.

--rent musicals from the library (some great ones are The Prince of Egypt, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables, Annie, My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly, The Fantastics, & The Pirates of Penzance. )
-- play selections of musicals like Camelot, The Phantom of the Opera & Wicked, all of which have themes either too scary or delicate for your children to watch in entirity, but have AMAZING get-in-your-blood songs. Tell the story, let them hear it, and be prepared to repeat.
-- discuss the idea of "motif"-- a musical phrase that always occurs with the entrance of a certain character, object, or event. Classic example: both the good guys & Darth Vadar's themes in John Williams' Star Wars. Once they've gotten the idea, try to identify themes in operas, in movie soundtracks, in musicals. Sometimes kids might pick up on phrases that are repeated in later songs in plays, etc.-- often these are motifs, too.
-- tell your children the stories (they make great bed-time tales) of your favorite musicals and then take them to see those musicals as a treat. Many musicals will have showings especially for school-aged children during the day.
-- tell your children the story of operas and let them watch clips (which you've previewed) on YouTube. I recommend Mozart's to start (The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Juan, Woman Are Like That). Wagner can get a little creepy and weird, not to mention dissonant. This is a great experience for all you adults too! I'll give more specific tips for this particular idea later.
-- check out soundtracks to movies (public libraries often have these)-- these are often the most dramatic music out there. Great examples are any of John Williams' (ET, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Star Wars) or Klaus Badelt (Pirates of the Carribbean) or Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Lion King, Pirates of the Carribbean, The Last Samurai, Kung Fu Panda). The Lord of the Rings soundtracks (Howard Shore) are wonderful, too. Let your kids listen to a track and imagine what's happening in it. If you've seen the movie, you could tell them a part of the story. This especially excites kids who love the movie characters or have seen the movies.

I will later post a concrete lesson plan as an example, but for now suffice it to say that taking 1/2 hour 2ce a week to do these activities-- call them listen & learn-- would do wonders for your child's interest in music. Use it as a "break" between 2 challenging subjects, or as a way to get back into gear after lunch.


Ashlea Davenport said...

I didn't know that Anne of Green Gables is a musical.

Ryan Szrama said...

It's also a slasher flick in Brazil.