Issue 39: Olympics – Fanfare for the Common Man, and Mexican Waves

This is a powerful composition for brass ensemble and percussion by Aaron Copeland. You can hear it on YouTube here; (conducted by Aaron Copeland) and (displaying the score)

You can download it from Amazon here for less than 90 pence:

You can read about the background to the composition here:

I decided to download a version by the Los Angeles Orchestra and Zubin Mehta. The performance times vary considerably. Many are over four minutes long, and I actually prefer listening to the slower versions, but this one is taken at a brisk tempo, which suited my plans better.

So the plan today was to work as a whole class (of year 3 and 4 children) to make a continuous sound travel round the circle without a break.. We had previously done similar activities, of taking turns to play round a circle, but maintaining a steady pulse. (eg “Great Wall of Chime Bars“, and the “Dragon Scales”  activity from ACBlack “Music Express” year 3).

We started by listening to “Fanfare for the Common Man”. I asked them to listen out for the instruments, and to think about how the music made them feel, and why. The responses were all I could have asked for; one normally fidgety lad sat like a rock for the whole piece. He picked out the Chinese tam-tam sound. Other comments were along the lines of strong, powerful music, “like astronauts”, “like the moon landing”, “like doing things in slow motion”, “music for the Queen”.

I used the children to give an example of the size of the bass drum, tam-tam and timpani – getting the tallest boy to stand up to suggest the diameter or the bass drum, telling them that if one of the children stood inside a timpani, the top of the bowl would come up to her waist. At some point I will play them a video of the performance, so they can see the instruments in action, but this time I wanted them to LISTEN to the music, rather than WATCH the music.

We then tried getting Mexican Waves going round the circle, letting the wave travel during the brass sections of the fanfare, and pausing for the percussion.

We abandoned using the recording for the next two stages. First we worked on getting a continuous vocal sound going; “shhhh”, and then using an eclectic selection of percussion instruments to create a continuous instrumental sound round the circle.

The idea of creating “continuous sound” turned out to be surprisingly difficult. To begin with, the children tended to just say “shush” to each other in turn. Again, with the instruments, it took several attempts before the children learned to keep going with their woodblock, cymbal, shaker, or whatever until ATFER the next child had started, so that there was an overlap of sound from one to the next.

To extend the activity, I “started” several sounds in different places, so that the children had to watch the person before them, rather than the whole class.

The next move will to be to make decisions to give the activity more structure; Which instruments should be next to each other – do we want to progress through different timbres? Shall we work in groups? Reverse the direction of travel? Have signals to start and stop sounds? Have conductors? How will we add elements such as tempo, dynamics?  These will be topics for class discussion and experiments in future lessons.

This entry was posted in Composition, Lessons that have happened, Listening Music, Olympics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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