Bringing the Classics Into the Classroom: How to Enhance Authentic Listening and Extended Literature Response in Middle School Through Music
by Daisy T. Lu, Ph.D.
Music Specialist, Cascade View Elementary School, Tukwila School District, WA
Adjunct Faculty Member, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA


Listening is the very first sense that develops in a young fetus. It is also the very last sense to leave the body of a dying person. My recent article on Music Education Beyond the Mozart Effect explains that all music has rhythm which can be felt and seen as well as heard. Complex elements of rhythm provide cohesion by embodying beat, pulse, accent, meter, duration, tempo, density, texture, form, and patterns.

The brain is stimulated by musical qualities including rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, style, dynamics, meaning and emotion. This unit on the sounds of water is designed to increase the long term effects of attentive listening through the engagement of musical activities. It is intended to lead students to perceive and respond to the expressiveness of music as it moves out of the realm of affect to the realm of cognition.


  1. To learn how to listen attentively through words (text) and musical sounds and patterns;
  2. To appreciate unfamiliar melody through eurhythmics and inner listening;
  3. To develop depth of understanding and appreciation in integrated arts (literature and musical elements)

Unit Theme: Water

Selected Music 1
Water Music Overture

Largo-Allegro by George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

Source: Any classical CD music store

Handel was born in Germany but spent most of his adult life in England. In the late Baroque period he combined German, French, Italian and English musical styles in his operas (40), oratorios (20), and numerous other vocal pieces, instrumental works, and church music.

Handel's Water Music Suite was composed for King George III of England as a peace offering (although it is widely known that the King probably commissioned him to compose this work). Handel and his orchestra followed the king's barge down the Thames River playing the Water Music Suite.

Handel's other famous works include the Messiah and the Royal Fireworks Music.

Focus: antiphony

Handel's "Water Music" is an antiphonal piece for instruments, with three sets of instruments trading off. Sometimes one group will sound by itself, and sometimes two will sound at the same time. Once in a while they all play together.


Antiphonal music is music that contains short themes or phrases that echo back and forth, the echo often beginning before the theme ends. Call and response is one kind of antiphonal music. Composers sometimes use one set of sounds alternating with another set of sounds.

Musical element: Expression

Concept: Tempo (can be extended to other elements of music)


  1. Experiment with a variety of tempo. Set up a steady beat on a drum as students walk that beat in random space. At appropriate points change the tempo expecting students to act accordingly.
  2. Using visuals exhibit basic tempos marking terms and definitions: Largo for very slow, Andante for walking tempo, Allegro for fast, Presto for very fast.
  3. Repeat step one using only the Italian terminology.
  4. Relate things we do in daily life that follow these different tempos.
  5. Handel wrote an overture to "Water Music" called Largo - Allegro. What do you predict the tempo will sound like?
  6. Imagine that we now live in a kingdom. There is a royal ball tonight. The King and the Queen will be parading through our streets to lead the lords and ladies to the fancy ball. As the procession passes, humbly bow to the royal highness. This is done during the Largo section of the music.
  7. They have arrived at the ball. The Allegro section begins. You and your partner must bow to the throne before you begin to dance. Dances of that historical period performed at a palace would be quite stately. We stand tall and proud and make graceful bows, curtsies and sweeping turns. The King and the Queen watch in a regal manner.
  8. Scarves and masks add to the stateliness of this royal event.


  • Why is this great composition called "Water Music?"
  • How does this music reflect the nature of water? The tempo? What else?
  • Can you think of other music that strongly suggests the water element?


Divide the class into three groups, assigning each group one instrument: woodwinds, brasses, strings. After listening once more to excerpts of the Allegro section, have students raise their hand when their instrument is heard. Have them clap the rhythm when they hear their section.


Selected Music 2
The Whale - Old Whaling Song

"Twas in eighteen hundred and fifty-three
And on June the 13th day,
That our gallant ship her anchor weighed,
And for Greenland bore away, brave boys,
And for Greenland bore away."

Source (five verses): The Music Connection 4, Silver Burdett


A story song (ballad)


Relate words and mood to style of performance by dramatizing a ballad.


A ballad is a song that tells a story.


Dramatize the story element in this ballad by having one group sing the lookout lines, another group the captain's lines, and the rest the connective story parts.


For centuries people have hunted whales, painted pictures about them, written stories and sung songs about them. More recently, Roger Payne, while doing research in animal behavior, discovered that whales "sing." And God Created the Great Whales, an unusual work composed by American composer, Alan Hovhaness (who lives in Seattle), includes the actual voices of humpback whales singing their mysterious songs! A hydrophone was used to record these songs in the depth of the Atlantic near Bermuda. The music that precedes the main whale song suggests (let students listen and respond) the movement of the waves in the vast ocean.

Related literature to read

In addition to news about Keiko's release:

  1. Draw 50 Sharks, Whales, and Other Sea Creatures by Lee J. Ames with Warren Budd (Doubleday)
  2. Mysterious Seas by Mary Elting (Grosset) - Explores ocean life from single- celled animals to killer whales
  3. Watching Whales by John Waters (Cobblehill) - Explores the natural life of whales and the reactions of people who observe them


Selected Music 3
Roll on, Columbia

by Woody Guthrie

Green douglas fir where the waters cut through,
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew.
Canadian Northwest to the ocean so blue,
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Source (four verses): The Music Connection 6, Silver Burdett


Meter in three


To demonstrate meter in three in movement


Musical element of strong beat, descant, harmony


Students imagine themselves strumming on a guitar as they listen for the first strong beat of each measure. Then, add strums in between each of the strong beats. Feel two strums between each strong beat. Make certain that the strumming movements show the difference between the strong beat (beat 1) and two beats that follow (beats 2 and 3). Listen to students sing with the recording or piano accompaniment. Observe how they tap the strong beat with one hand and beats 2 and 3 with the other hand.

Instrument Extension

Play the autoharp emphasizing the "rolling" rhythm of the song. Introduce short names in the music and strum on the strong first beat of each measure. Then add an autoharp introduction. Accompany the rest of the song with autoharp. Then choose a small group to learn the descant in the refrain. Have a harmony part to the performance.

Composition Extension

Guide students to compose original songs. For example: Discuss local natural landmarks - lakes, rivers, mountains, etc, and decide which one to write, illustrate, and compose about. Or work in small groups to create a song (with words and accompaniment) about the landmark.

Related literature

Woody Guthrie's works have influenced many contemporary folk singers. He is best known for his songs about America. Wherever he went he wrote about the people and the geography of the region. Perhaps his best beloved song is "This Land Is Your Land." At the invitation of the Bonneville Power Administration, Guthrie composed 25 songs about the Columbia River, the Bonneville and the Grand Coulee dams in Oregon and Washington. He sang the songs at rallies promoting this enormous project. "Roll on, Columbia" is one of these songs.

  1. Rivers and Lakes by Theodore Rowland-Entwistle (Silver Burdett) - Presents facts about American rivers and discusses the need for conserving these important natural resources
  2. The Story of Folk Music by Melvin Burger (Phillips) - Tells how and why folk music develops and gives biographical information about Woody Guthrie
  3. Rivers and People by Tom Brown (Silver Burdett) - A clear explanation of the importance of rivers to people


Selected Music 4
Song of the Beach (Hamabe no Uta)

Words by Kokei Hayashi, Music by Tamezo Narita, English words by Ichiro Nakano

I love to roam alone along the beach at break of day,
My old sweet memories return in my heart to stay.
The sighing of the sea wind, the clouds in the sky,
The rolling waves that dance and leap.
My heart for joy does cry!

Ashita hamabe o samayoeba
Mukashi no kotozo
Shi no baruru; kaze no otoyo.
Kumo no samayo; yo suru namimo
Kai no iro mo.

Source (with two additional verses in Japanese): The Music Connection 8, Silver Burdett


Melodic patterns


To recognize and compare melodic patterns aurally and in notation; to gain insights into a singer's performance and cultural contribution.


Melodic pattern


Listen to the music. Pick a common melodic pattern. Each time it occurs in the song, what follows? Are the notes that complete the phrase always the same, or do they change? Look at a Japanese woodblock print. Find the lines, shapes and colors that repeat to create varied patterns. To the Japanese, nature reflects warm feelings and memories as they are expressed in songs.


In groups, have students create an eight-measure melody using a rhythm pattern and a melodic shape given to them by the teacher.

Cultural Connection

Composed in 1916, Song of the Beach describes the beauty of the sea, the rolling, foaming and gleaming waves, the sighing of the sea wind, the clouds. The words were then set to music by Tamezo Narita who originally wanted to give it a European flavor by using a diatonic melody and six-eighth meter. This song was received graciously by intellectuals who enjoyed its "unJapanese" melody and by secondary students who were curious about the West. Even today, this song is maintained as a masterpiece of the Japanese culture. Therefore, teaching the Japanese lyrics is highly recommended.


Selected Music 5
River, River (Rio, Rio)

Words by Alice Firgau - from Chile

How wide and deep is the river?
How swiftly it flows to the sea?
If my tears should meet its water,
Oh, how deep it then would be.
If my tears should meet its waters,
Oh, how deep it then would be.

Que grande, que viene el rio?
Que grande se va la mar?
Si lo au menta el llanto mio,
Como grande no ha de estar.
Si lo au menta el llanto mio,
Como grande no ha de estar.

Source (with a Spanish verse): The Music Connection 8, Silver Burdett


Singing with accompaniment


To determine how an accompaniment attributes to the expressiveness of a song


Solo accompaniment, ostinato


Listen to the song. What words may describe the accompaniment?
(Flowing, moving in steady regular beats, fast tempo)

What instruments do you hear? What emotions do they provoke?
(guitar, tambourine, triangle)

Emphasize both solo and group performance. Can you sing and accompany yourself? Try a simple arrangement using rhythm or an ostinato.

Integrating Social Studies: Extended Curriculum

Which river in Chile inspired this song? Chilean geography is a study in contrasts, from the great Atacama Desert in the north to Chilean Patagonia's bleak fjords in the south. Numerous rivers descend from the Andes toward the coast. Large agricultural areas are found near these fertile riverbeds. South of the capital, Santiago, lies the Bio Bio River, the site of Chile's once great frontier and the home of the Mapuche Indians. Further south, the Tolten River borders Chile's magnificent Lake District of snow-capped mountains and volcanoes. One of these principal rivers or any minor one could have inspired this song infused with a romanticism that expresses feelings of unrequited love.

Integrating Language Arts

Teach the literary device called "metaphor." Nature of such enormous beauty suggests "power" and "inspiration" that can easily become visual and auditory. Try descriptive writing using metaphors.


Identify and discuss the various characteristics of the accompaniment and how each contributes to the expressiveness of the song. Instruments: Teach students how to play simple chords on the guitar, or how to play simple tunes on a recorder. Observe how even the simplest accompaniment intensifies the meaning and emotion behind the song, especially when the elements of rhythm, dynamics, phrasing expression, and tempo are keenly observed.

Other suggested music on the theme of "water:"

Over the Sea to Skye - music by Annie McLeod, words by Robert L. Stevenson - Source: Music and You, Grade 8, MacMillan

Fifty Percent Chance of Rain - music and words by Carl Nygard, Jr. - Source: Music and You, Grade 7, MacMillan

Wade in the Water - An African-American spiritual - Source: Music Connection 8, Silver Burdett

Appalachian Spring Suite, "Theme and Variations" - A native-American piece by Aaron Copland

La Mer - A symphony by Claude Debussy

Under the Sea - from Disney's Little Mermaid; music by Alan Menken, words by Howard Ashman.

Ol' Man River - From Broadway musical, Showboat, by Kern and Hammerstein.

Song of the Water (Canto del Agua) - By Joropo from Venezuela, English words by Alice Firgau, Source: Music connection 8, Silver Burdett.

Each piece has its own focus and specific learning objectives. All relate to the sense of hearing/listening and specific music elements, in addition to highlighting cognitive and metacognitive functions.

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