Strung on Strings!

April 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Music Education, Musical Instruments | 2 Comments
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Quick! How many string instruments can you name in 30 seconds?

(tick … tock … tick … tock … insert Jeopardy theme song here … tick … tock)

How did you do? Find a list of string instruments at the end of this blog! How about this question? If you tied together one set of strings from every type of string instrument, how many times would it fit around the Earth? … Well, now how should I know that! Many I suppose!

Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ~ a beautiful classic piece for strings!

String instruments are fascinating! They are at the center of many styles of music from many cultures and times in history! Ancient civilizations such as Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, and India had various forms of string instruments. Evidence was preserved in numerous pieces of artwork in drawings and sculptures.

Isn’t the koto pretty sounding?

The string family may be used to play elegant music from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic style periods of music with orchestral strings. They may also be found in folk music via dulcimers, fiddles, and banjos. World music has some thrilling choices of instruments including the koto and sitar. And, of course, even good old rock ‘n’ roll masters the strings in bass, electric, and acoustic guitars!

How about some bluegrass fiddling!

Find out TONS of information about string instruments at my String Family Unit webpage ~ their construction, history, styles, orchestral, non-orchestral, string websites, videos, learning materials, experiments, activities, and fun games!

Building string instruments takes much knowledge, skill, and patience!

Some of the instruments in the string family: violin, viola, cello, string bass, harp, lyre, lute, sitar, koto, zither, autoharp, dulcimer, fiddle, ukulele, guitar, banjo, mandolin, … plus many more folk and world string instruments!! I hope you enjoyed listening to a variety of strings!

This string ensemble is called Stringfever!
Is it classical music? Modern music? Or, well, you decide!

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No Hidin’ from Haydn!

March 31, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Classical Composers | Leave a comment
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Ha – ha – ha – Haydn!! I love classical music of many kinds, but I know many people who think it’s old fashioned, dry, and boring. Perhaps they have not heard the music of Franz Joesph Haydn or learned about the stories behind the music. Haydn’s unique sense of humor may be heard in delicate, subtle ways throughout his music. At the least, he certainly knew how to bring a point across to people!


Happy 278th Birthday Mr. Haydn! (March 31, 1732)

For example, what would you do if your Princely employer had you composing dozens of symphonies and chamber music for the estate’s private orchestra (which, of course, you were expected to train, rehearse, and manage); entertaining the Prince’s guests with operas (again, a multi-task job – composing, rehearsing performers, training singers, staging, directing, and so forth); composing and leading all the music for mass; organizing and caring for the instruments and music library; and performing on numerous instruments at the Prince’s command? What if this same employer, the Prince of Esterhazy, expected perfection at a moment’s notice 24 /7 without any days off? What if the musicians under your management complained to you about having no vacation? How would you approach the boss to allow all the musicians to take a needed rest?

Wanting to please his orchestra but not upset the Prince, Haydn came up with a clever way to gently hint and persuade his employer. Haydn simply did what he did best ~ compose music! But this piece was a little different. He easily created three movements common to symphonic form, but, instead of using a fast movement, slow movement, and ending with another fast movement as expected, Haydn decided that the orchestra should demonstrate how tired they were near the end by slowing down for the Prince’s audience. As the piece progressed, a few musicians would blow out their candle, take their music and instrument, and depart from the stage as written in the music. A few minutes later another group of musicians would do the same until the end where only Herr Haydn was left. The Prince took the hint and allowed them to take leave and join their families. This 45th Symphony, better known as the “Farewell Symphony” or “Candle Symphony”, has become one of Haydn’s most famous displays of musical humor!

Symphony #45 ~ The “Farewell Symphony” ~ 3rd and 4th Movements

Another extremely popular piece by Haydn is his Symphony #94 or “Surprise Symphony”. Surprise? What’s the surprise? As you know, many classical pieces are fairly long (especially in comparison to the couple minute songs we are used to on the radio)! Apparently some members of his audiences would become relaxed during the performance, so relaxed, in fact, that listeners would nod off for a wee nap in the middle! (You wouldn’t fall asleep sitting still during a 20 minute slow movement, would you?) Wanting his audiences not to miss a note of his music, Haydn decided to help them stay more alert by issuing a few surprises along the way. Imagine Haydn’s distinguished guests in their best gowns and suits; their newly powdered wigs placed just right upon their heads as they sit to enjoy an afternoon of beautiful music. The string instruments begin the main motif of the piece ever so gently and quietly. On it continues as other instruments join them softly. Just as the guests feel their eyelids starting to droop at the pretty pianissimo (very soft), ha – ha – ha – Haydn issues the first surprise with a fortissimo (very loud) chord by the entire orchestra! I can just imagine the jumps and surprised looks on the faces of the listeners as they woke up abruptly! Haydn and the orchestra stayed cool as a cucumber as they continued at pianissimo as if nothing unusual had happened. Softly and sweetly the melody flowed until the audience became relaxed again when Haydn issued the second surprise!! LOL! I would think that his audiences paid much better attention at subsequent performances!

Symphony #94 ~ The “Surprise Symphony” ~ 2nd Movement

It must have been quite a bit of fun to play in Haydn’s orchestra! I’m not sure I could have kept a straight face for very long!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

March 19, 2010 at 2:00 am | Posted in Classical Composers, Music Education | Leave a comment
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Mozart has always been one of my favorite classical composers, so when I was asked to create a classical composer unit study he was naturally my first choice. Not only does the unit contain musical content about this brilliant man, but also multi-curricular lesson plans, activities, games, and free lapbook / notebook materials. I submitted it to the “Summer Blast” Contest at Homeschool Share during the summer of 2009 and was very pleased that it won in one of the categories!

Public Domain Photo Thanks to Wikipedia

The Mozart Unit Study contains a reading list for kids, vocabulary, several grammar activities, science (animals), social studies (history and geography), character studies in diligence, stewardship, behavior, and kindness, Bible lesson and verses, music math, classical art, cooking, the historical timeline of Herr Mozart along with a study of his works, the classical music period characteristics, music theory, a Mozart file folder game, and links for further study and games. Additional materials and ideas may be found at my music education blog, Joyful Songs.

Just wanna brush up on your Mozart knowledge? Here’s a timeline of Mozart’s Life for you!

1719 ~ Father Leopold born in Augsburg November 14

1737 ~ Leopold attended the University of Salzburg,

1738 ~ Leopold expelled from the University, Entered the services of Count Johann of Thurn-Valsassina und Taxis, Joined Prince-Archbishop’s orchestra as a chamber musician, Court Composer and vice-Kapellmeister

1747 ~ Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl married on November 21

1751 ~ Sister Maria Anna Mozart “Nannerl” born on July 30

1756 ~ Wolfgang born on January 27

1759 ~ Wolfgang started to play claviers (keyboard instruments) by ear at age 3. He started to accompany his sister’s violin music and he joined with his father’s chamber ensemble on violin.

1760 ~ Leopold taught Wolfgang and Maria Anna music instruments and music theory. Wolfgang composed his first pieces of music at age 4. A quote from his father, “This piece was learnt by Wolfgangerl on 24 January 1761, 3 days before his 5th birthday, between 9 and 9:30 in the evening.”

1762 ~ Leopold performed with his children to the Court of the Elector in Munich, and to the Empress Maria Theresa’s Viennese Court at the Schonbrunn Palace. Wolfgang is said to have leapt onto the Empress’s lap and give her a kiss after this performance! It is also about this time that young Wolfgang proposed marriage to Marie Antoinette (see Hapsburg family notes).

1762-1771 ~ The Mozart family traveled around the countries of Europe including France, England, Holland, Germany, Italy, Austria, and others. The family, especially the children suffered numerous illnesses during these tours. Leopold encouraged performances because the children would earn food and money when they performed.

1768 ~ At 12 years old, Mozart was commissioned, or hired to compose, by “imperial command” a full-length opera entitled La finta simplice!

1769-1771 ~ Leopold and Wolfgang toured through Italy bringing much success to his popularity. During this time he: – performed a solo concert before the Pope of Rome; awarded the “Order of the Golden Spur”; was accepted as a composer of the “Accademica Filarmonica” – an honor never before given to someone under the age of 20.

1771-1776 ~ Mozart was commissioned to compose for rich patrons and monarchs in Vienna and Munich.

1777-1778 ~ Toured France with his mother, Anna Maria whom unfortunately died in Paris. He returned home heartbroken.

1779 ~ Earned the musical positions of Konzertmeister (concertmaster and organist) to the Court and Cathedral of Salzburg. He also wrote many compositions during the next several years.

1781 ~ Wolfgang became an employee of the Archbishop of Salzburg who showed him off to aristocracy like a ‘possession’, but treated him poorly as a lowly servant. He befriended composer Franz Joseph Haydn. They were mutually influential over one another. The older composer spoke of Mozart as having “the most consummate knowledge of the art of composition”.

1782 ~ Wolfgang and Constanze Weber were married.

1783 ~ Wolfgang’s first child was born.

1785 ~ Wolfgang’s last meeting with his father, Leopold, after disagreements came to a peak.

1786 ~ A libretto (story line of an opera) written by Lorenzo da Ponte became of interest to Mozart. From this he composed Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), which became an instant hit in Vienna and one of his best-known operas.

1787 ~ Mozart had another great success with another opera collaboration with da Ponte called Don Giovanni. He was appointed as Kammercompositor of the Emperor’s Court of Joseph II. It was an honorary appointment, but very low on income making the Mozart families still struggle financially. He had a stream of musical successes for a while until the death of Joseph II.

1790 ~ Leopold II, who cared little for music, became the Emperor extinguishing Mozart’s position. Mozart did a small tour of Germany and performed in front of other members of the Habsburg royal family.

1791 ~ He composed one of his most momentous operas, Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute). As his health had been declining for years, he struggled to write his last piece, Requiem, which was commissioned by an unknown patron. A friend finished the piece after Mozart’s death on December 5. Mozart’s funeral took place at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He was buried in an unmarked tomb.

My hope is that teachers and parents will find this to be a fun, easy-to-use, and informative lessons about Herr Mozart and classical music! ~ Mozart Unit Study

Peter and the Wolf by Serge Prokoviev

March 4, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Classical Composers, Music Education | Leave a comment
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Adults and children both delight in the musical story of Peter and the Wolf by Serge Prokoviev! This classic piece wraps around a children’s story about a young boy named Peter and his animal friends.

PhotobucketPhoto Thanks to We For Animals

As each character is represented by a theme and an instrument in the orchestra, it is easy to identify who is who. This brilliant work has been performed for family concerts throughout the world innumerable times and has been used as a teaching tool to music educators for tons of children. If you want to learn more about Peter & the Wolf, you will enjoy this wonderful article by Squidoo lensmaster, Ulla Hennig, about the story, composer, and films.


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