The Dalcroze classes are now in full swing (ok, pun intended), and the kids have heard and experienced music with a variety of tempos, rhythms, and dynamics. They have been encouraged to express those changes in movement. Children naturally learn in many different ways. Some like to watch in class and ‘do’ at home. Some are more active in class. All learning styles are appropriate and children instinctively give themselves what they need at this age. So, the more opportunities they have to hear, experience and respond to music, the better. Parents are often interested in ways to continue the work at home. I’ll share some possibilities in this article.
In the stories I create for movement in the class, I attempt to take full advantage of children’s natural connection to the world of animals. The composer Camille Saint-Seans uses the same phenomenon in his “Carnival of the Animals”, a perennial favorite for children since its composition in 1886. The different temperaments and tendencies of various orchestral instruments are matched with an appropriate animal. Using a recording at home, it would be possible to reinforce many of the experiences we have been having in class.
You might start by simply playing a track, and asking your child to become any animal they like. The simple act of moving like that animal as the music plays is enough to get a wide variety of nuance as the dynamics, rhythm and tempo change. There are no wrong answers. Of course, you can also tell them the name of the movement. Each short piece has a specific way of moving, and many exhibit one or both sides of a musical opposition (slow/fast, high/low, etc.) You might enjoy seeing what they respond to as they listen. Here is a list of some of the musical features of each movement that might catch kids’ attention:
1. Introduction and March of the Royal Lion: A stately and proud march, something kids love to do. Contrasts between high and low (in pitch) between the two pianos; loud dynamics.
2. Hens and Roosters: Starting and stopping.
3. Wild Donkeys: Fast and loud.
4. Tortoises: Slow and soft. (contains a musical joke – Offenbach’s popular Can-Can played very slowly)
5. The Elephant: Heavy with a medium tempo. (more jokes: music by Berlioz and and Mendelssohn originally written for flutes, now given to the low basses)
6. Kangaroos: the opposition of short and long; starting and stopping.
7. Aquarium: Light, gliding, running.
8. People with Long Ears (Donkeys): Lots of oppositions. Fast and slow; high and low (meaning pitch); loud dynamics.
9. The Cuckoo in the Woods: Phrase length awareness. The piano plays phrases (musical sentences) of different lengths. The “cuckoo” of the clarinet marks the end of each phrase.
10. Aviary: High, light, fast, soft.
11. Pianists: moving between high and low (pitch).
12. Fossils: Short, light, quick, loud dynamics. Twinkle Twinkle is tucked into this movement, along with a few other French folk tunes which may or may not be recognized. But this movement is really just about the dance!
13. The Swan: legato (smooth and connected), gliding, soft.
14. Finale: All of the animals are brought back. See how many you can recognize.
There are many recordings of this piece, and it is often packaged with other orchestra kid’s favorites such as “Peter and the Wolf”. I have a fondness for Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic from the 60’s. He does talk about each movement before he plays it, and his voice might not be every young person’s cup of tea these days. He uses young musicians whom he introduces on the recording however, and the idea of that might be inspiring for some. Pictures books related to the piece abound, and this could be of further inspiration.
This type of play can be done with many kinds of music, not just Carnival of the Animals, and not just orchestral music. So plug in the ipod, pull up something interesting, and enjoy some active listening with your child today!