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Students explore grief while discussing Barber’s Anthony O’Daly choral music recording


Language Arts, Music  


11, 12  


Title – Choral Discussion — Barber’s “Anthony O’Daly”
By – Marybeth K. Miller
Primary Subject – Music
Secondary Subjects – Language Arts
Grade Level – High School
Listening Assignment/Class Discussion: Upper High School

You will need a recording of:
Anthony O’Daly from “Reincarnations” (1942)
by Samuel Barber (1910-1981).
I like the Kansas City Chorale singing it on their “Fern Hill” CD, but you can use whatever you want.

I begin class by having them listen to the piece and then we discuss it — I try to choose questions that differ from the ones below, so that they don’t just write down what other people say when they write their essay. However, if you feel that the questions below are difficult, then you might want to discuss them briefly or create questions that will naturally lead their thoughts into the assigned questions. One thing that is very important to discuss is WHY this song is so “ugly” or “awful”. 99% of my students HATED it. They REALLY hated it. But that is exactly what I wanted!! The raw pain and “ugly” dissonances in this piece are what make it so beautiful. It creates such a passionate response in the students that they are usually very willing to discuss.

This is the assignment sheet I give them.
Anthony O’Daly from “Reincarnations” (1942)
by Samuel Barber (1910-1981).
Poem by James Stephens (after the Irish of Raftery)

Since your limbs were laid out,
The stars do not shine!
The fish leap not out in the waves!
On our meadows the dew
Does not fall in the morn,
For O’Daly is dead!

Not a flower can be born!
Not a word can be said!
Not a tree have a leaf!
For O’Daly is dead!

After you,
There is nothing to do!
There is nothing but grief!

Using good grammar, spelling, and writing skills, answer the following questions. You may combine them into one complete essay using paragraphs or you may number your answers. Please make your answers as complete as possible and make certain that you answer each question in its entirety. This assignment should be double-spaced, 12-point size, with margins no wider than 1.25″ at top, bottom, and sides.

1. Besides sadness, what other emotions do you sense in this piece? Describe in detail.

2. In your opinion, what relationship do you imagine the singers have with the deceased? Do the singers symbolize an individual? (In other words, is the piece an expression of one person or many?)

3. If you had only read the text to this piece, would your answer to #2 be the same? Why or why not?

4. Phrases like “The stars do not shine! The fish leap not out of the waves!” are not really a true description of what is happening on earth since Anthony O’Daly’s death. In your opinion, do these exaggerations help to convince the listener of the depth of grief, or does it make it unbelievable?

5. Imagine that you are a close friend of one of the grieving singers. How would you comfort them? What words would you use to help them through this time?


It is amazing the response/discussion I got from the students. They opened up about how the music made them think of personal grief experiences, how each voice part represented different stages of grief, etc. It was wonderful! Choral music is equally effective if it has a negative response as opposed to a positive response. However, you might want to choose something happier for your next assignment!!

You might even correlate this lesson with social studies by having students research who Anthony O’Daly was. (It takes a bit of time, but I was able to do it.)

Have fun!

E-Mail Marybeth K. Miller !

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