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Music in relation to history is the topic of this contemporary classical music lesson


Language Arts, Music, Social Studies  



Title – Introduction to Contemporary Classical Music
By – Greg Love
Primary Subject – Music
Secondary Subjects – English, Social Studies
Grade Level – 8

Standards Addressed:

  • National Standard #6 — Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
  • National Standard #8 — Understanding relationships between music, and other disciplines.
  • National Standard #9 — Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

    General Goals:
    1. To introduce contemporary classical music through aural (CD Recordings) means.
    2. To discuss why this form of music evolved.
    3. To discuss what the composers are trying to say.

    Specific Objectives:
    1. To modify our existing musical terms in such a way that they apply to this new style of music.
    2. To be able to discuss this new style of music in a specific, factual way.
    3. To understand specific historical events that led composers to feel that they had to express themselves in this new (and often difficult to listen to) way.
    4. To understand that in all arts disciplines, that which is new tends to be initially rejected.

    Required Materials:
    Students should have paper and pencil.
    Teacher will require CD player and CD collection.

    Anticipatory Set (Lead-In):
    I will introduce the concept of contemporary classical music and tell the students that I am going to perform a piece for them. I use John Cage’s 4’33” which consists entirely of silence, forcing the noise in the room to become the music. I follow this with the simple question, “Is this music?” Here I do a simple show of hands. I save the more serious discussion for the next part of the lesson.

    Step by Step Procedures:
    1. I will play a recording of John Zorn’s Cat of Nine Tails . As the students listen to the recording, I will have them make a list of things that they feel make it music (or not). Following this, I will make two lists on the board. One will have reasons why the excerpt is music. The other for reasons why it is not music. I will use student volunteers to fill these columns.

    2. Next, we will review our list of musical elements that we learned earlier in the year (melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, meter, cadence, etc). This is a list that we have used to describe the “normal sounding” music that we have played in class. As we listen to the opening passage of Cat of Nine Tails again, I will have the students determine whether or not those ideas can be applied to that piece. I will follow this with discussion. When there are those who have trouble applying these definitions to this type of music, I will introduce a score and show some of the new notational techniques that composer shave come up with in order to use these traditional concepts, but in very non-traditional ways.

    3. Next, we will listen to excerpts from Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw and Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time . The students in our eighth grade read Elie Wiesel’s Night , so they will be familiar with the Holocaust. We will discuss why these composers might have felt that they needed this type of music to realistically portray the horrors of life during the Holocaust as opposed to music that would have been more pleasing to the ears. I will ten draw connections to the musical horrors that these composers portray to the visual horrors that Wiesel attempts to describe in portions of Night .

    4. For the last segment, I will hand out a list of quotes and concert reviews that describe horrible music. This list is intentionally written to sound like critics attacking the music we have just listened to. I will ask the students to agree/disagree with the statements. I will then fill in the actual names of the individuals to whom the quotes refer (Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Elvis Presley). I will end the lesson by playing the Beethoven piece that one of the scathing quotes refers to. We will discuss how things that older generations often dislike because they are unknown often become accepted parts of their genres. I will then relate this to the popular music that they like to listen to.

    Plan for Independent Practice: I break students up into small groups and have them analyze different pieces based on the criteria that we discussed in step two above.

    Assessment Based on Objectives: I will have the students listen to George Crumb’s Black Angels and begin by analyzing the piece based on the criteria that we discussed in step two above. I will then have them use the title of the movement, Night of the Electric Insects , to help come up with a suggestion about what the piece might be about. In this case, it is actually about the Vietnam War. They will turn this assignment in at the end of class.

    Extensions: For advanced or motivated students, I offer the opportunity to come up with a piece of their own. They are required to come up with their own notational system for performing the piece, and it must be something that can be performed by members of our group.

    Possible Connection to Other Subjects:

  • English: Elie Wiesel’s Night , The Diary of Anne Frank
  • History: The Holocaust
  • Visual Art: Holocaust paintings

    E-Mail Greg Love !

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