In our composer study for Term 3, we are diverting from the AO scheduled composer of Dittersdorf (1739-1799) to study Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The main reason is that I have enjoyed having an artist and composer study from the same time period. In Term 1, Mary Cassatt and Antonin Dvorak lived during the same time period. In Term 2, we studied Medieval music along with the art of Giotto Bondone. Although Whistler and Vaughan Williams have just a brief common history, the parallels in their love for music made sense for me to study them together! In fact, this performer’s reflection on both the Nocturne and Schertzo for String Quartet and Nocturne in Black and Gold by Whistler (link) shows how parallels can be drawn between the two artists. At different times, they even lived in the same area of London on Cheyne Row.
I’ve put together a YouTube playlist of 6 pieces I think are great to study with your students! You can view it here. In addition to the 6 pieces blow, you may find it interesting that Vaughan Williams wrote several hymns while he was an editor for the English Hymnal and he also wrote the music for an opera based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress .
For an introduction to the composer’s biography and life, I recommend listening to the Classics for Kids episode!
Folk Song Suite: Seventeen Come Sunday
In this first exposure to Vaughan Williams I would spend a little time talking about folk songs and how the aural/oral tradition of passing down folk songs was great, but musicians realized the importance of collecting them to save for future generations. Ralph Vaughan Williams spent a lot of time listening to people sing their favorite folk songs and then wrote them down to share with others. Many of the songs appeared in his works for orchestras and chamber groups. Play a recording of the folk song “Seventeen Come Sunday” and then listen for the melody in the piece by Vaughan Williams. For fun, practice learning and singing the non-sense words in the chorus of the folk song (With a rue-rum-ray, fol-the-diddle-ay, Whack-fol-lare-diddle-I-doh.) If you like to feature select instruments of the orchestra to your students, have them listen for the solo clarinet in the middle of the piece!
This piece starts off very soft and slow. Almost mysterious! I like to have my students close their eyes and imagine pictures while they’re listening. After the slow and soft section it quickly picks up! In fact, if you are a Phantom of the Opera fan, see if you can find any similarities in the melody in the fast section! To make this piece come alive, I would share some pictures and characteristics of London. Some categorize this piece as programme music. Programme music is music that can tell a story. The obvious reference to London comes in right at the end of the slow section when you can hear the clarinet and harp play the chimes of Big Ben! This is so fun to hear! With my kids, we will color or draw a picture of Big Ben and the cityscape of London.
You can’t help but tap your toes during this piece! I love to talk to my kids about form in music. There are two main sections in this piece. The first section goes back and forth with a loud march contrasted by softer melodies with triangle rhythms. The second section in the middle of the piece is a very rolling and legato (smooth) melody. And then the original section comes back to finish the piece. We call this “ABA” form or “Ternary” form because the A section “returns.” For young kids I am all about movement! Marching around during the A section like sailors on a boat or something similar makes it fun! During the B section have them wave a scarf or flag! Reviewing our favorite sea songs from this year (Blow the Man Down and Fish of the Sea) is also a fun way to make connections!
This is a great time to introduce the brass family to your students and show that the Tuba can be an amazing solo instrument! A concerto is a term that I think all kids should understand. Put simply, a concerto is a piece for a solo instrument and accompanying orchestra. There are some lovely children’s books about instruments of the orchestra and one that I enjoy reading to my kids is “The Owl and the Tuba” I’ll read the book to them and then have them listen to this concerto.
If you are following the AO rotation of hymns/folk songs/artists/composers you may find it enjoyable to use this piece in conjunction with learning the folk song Greensleeves as scheduled on the Ambleside site for 2017 Term 3. Teach your students the folk song and listen for the melody in the piece. The piece was used as music for the opera “Sir John in Love” which is based off of Shakespeare’s play “Merry Wives of Windsor.” The string section is a great family of instruments to study while listening to this piece. Especially with the use of the harp in the composition.
I thought it was important to share some of the beautiful vocal pieces that Vaughan Williams composed based on poetry. There are MANY to choose from but I thought with the time of year and our climate, this song is appropriate! I will read the poem to my kids and then let them listen to the vocal arrangement. To me, it’s also important to expose children to art songs. Our modern society has lost the beauty of recognizing the talent in vocal performance within classical literature. Look up other Vaughan William’s pieces for voice and enjoy the genre!