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How Does Music Inform Movement?

Aim: Discover how music informs movement.
Summary: Students explore the interaction of music and movement through opera and film.
Standards: National 1, 2, 6; NYC 1, 3, 5
Vocabulary: aria, character, danzón, emotion

Music can have a tremendous impact on the way we interpret any given experience. We hear ominous music and our hearts start to pound as we anticipate that something scary is about to happen. A happy song can lend light to even the most dreary scene. Music combined with movement can affect us in different ways, and it is up to both the composer and performer to bring a unique perspective to every performance.

Music Shows Us How to Move Expressively with the “Toreador” Aria

  • In opera, the characters onstage sing their lines instead of speaking them. The music the orchestra plays and the ways the opera singers move to the music help to illuminate the characters and enhance the story that is unfolding in front of the audience.
  • Read the following synopsis of Carmen:
    • Carmen is a dramatic French opera composed by Georges Bizet that tells a tale of love gone wrong. Carmen is a young gypsy who at first falls in love with a soldier, but then falls for the popular toreador—or bullfighter—Escamillo. “Toreador” is an aria from Carmen sung by Escamillo, who proudly brags about his fame and skill.
      • What is the mood of the “Toreador” aria? What emotions do you think the music is trying to convey?
  • Play Track 15 “Toreador” from Carmen.
  • Ask students to take turns pretending to be the toreador onstage, portraying a variety of attitudes for the character (silly, scared, brave, sneaky, uninterested, proud, shy, etc.)
    • To whom is your character singing?
    • What is your character feeling?
    • What is your character trying to communicate?
    • How would your character move?
  • After several students take a turn, reflect as a class.
    • Which movements seemed to best match the music of the “Toreador” aria?

Music Sets the Scene

  • It is no coincidence that the word “emotion” shares a common root with the word “motion.” Our feelings, mood, and state of mind are always in motion. We can be transported to a different time and place by memories and feelings that we associate with different sounds.
  • Ask students to name some of their favorite activities (playing in the park, attending or participating in a sporting event, going on a field trip, etc.).
  • Select one activity and ask students to draw a picture of this activity using Music Sets the Scene (PDF).
  • Hang up the students’ drawings in the classroom and take a “gallery walk” so that they can view the work of their peers.
  • As a class, select three or more student drawings and ask students to describe the sounds and emotions they have experienced in association with the illustrated activity. Use these answers to complete the Soundscape Chart (PDF).
    • What do you hear? What is happening? Who is there? What is the setting? How do you feel?
  • Ask the students to identify instruments (don’t forget voices and body percussion) or objects that can represent the sounds and emotions that are related to the activity.
  • Experiment with the individual instruments or objects the group selected to represent the various sounds and emotions.
    • Which sound does your instrument or object represent?
    • What emotions do you associate with these sounds?
  • Create a short phrase or motif to be played on selected instruments or objects.
    • How can we play the sound to best represent the emotions we associate with it? Should the pitch be high or low? Should the notes be played long or short?
    • What expressive qualities can we use (dynamics, tempo, articulation)?
  • Consider asking students to notate these sounds through melodic notation, graphic notation, or written verbal instructions, or through any other means they devise.
  • Layer some of the phrases or motifs together to create an improvised soundscape.
    • Which sounds should be louder or softer?
    • Which sounds work well together to help represent the activity as a whole?
  • Reflect on your improvisation.
    • How does music change how we remember or perceive an experience?

Go Deeper

The Orchestra Moves culminating concerts will feature “Un, dos, tres” by composer Angélica Negrón, who is known for combining found sounds and toy instruments with electronics and orchestral instruments in her works. Learn more by watching Angélica Negrón on Q2 Music’s “Spaces.”

Listening to Danzón No. 2

  • Listen to Track 27 Danzón No. 2 as a class, using the following concepts to guide your students’ listening.
  • Review the clave pattern in the Creative Extension above. Identify the pattern played at the beginning by the claves. Ask your students to clap along.
  • Explore the different ways that the composer builds excitement and momentum.
    • Raise your hands when you hear changes in tempo.
    • How did the tempo change throughout the piece?
  • Explore Márquez’s use of dynamics.
    • Márquez uses contrasting dynamics, achieved through dynamic markings and contrasting sections with solo instruments with full orchestra tutti sections.
    • How does the composer use dynamics to create excitement?
  • Explore Márquez’s use of articulation.
    • What kind of articulation does the solo clarinet use at the beginning?
    • What kind of articulation do the strings use when they enter?
    • How do the strings’ accents increase the sense of excitement?

The Orchestra Moves with Dance

  • Music and dance are closely intertwined. Music compels us to move, and that movement is structured and choreographed to create dance. In The Orchestra Moves, students have the opportunity to learn about three specific dance styles, coming from three different traditions.
  • At their Link Up concert, your students will have an opportunity to hear an excerpt from Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez. You can prepare your students to listen actively to this work by exploring the information below and listening to Track 27 Danzón No. 2.

The Danzón

  • The danzón was born in the dance halls of Havana, Cuba, in the late 1800s, and soon migrated across the Gulf of Mexico to Veracruz, Mexico. Like many Latin American styles, the danzón melds African traditions with European traditions. The characteristic rhythm is a clave, an African-based rhythm that combines a syncopated phrase with a non-syncopated phrase.
  • The danzón was the first form of written music based on the clave rhythm. It is a slow partner dance, with choreographed pauses and intricate steps. While it all but disappeared in Cuba, it remains very much alive across Mexico, where there are about 200 danzón dance troupes and more than 20 orchestras.
  • In his Danzón No. 2, Mexican composer Arturo Márquez takes this popular style and adapts it, transforming it from dance music to an orchestral work made for listening. Márquez has written eight danzónes altogether; Danzón No. 2 is the most popular, and is often called Mexico’s second national anthem. Márquez wrote the work at a time of political upheaval in Mexico, and has said that it is an expression of esperanza (“hope”) for the future of his country.

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