The Orchestra Rocks with Layers
Aim: How do composers use musical layers to create excitement?
Summary: Students explore musical layers and expressive qualities in orchestral music.
Standards: National 1, 4, 7, 8, 11; NYC 2, 3, 4, 5
Vocabulary: dynamics, rhythmic layers, tempo
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Listening for Layers in “Mars”
- Listen to the first 30 seconds of Track 41 “Mars” from The Planets.
- Listen for the first layer—the repeating rhythm.
- Which instruments are playing the first layer?
- Listen for the second layer—the melody.
- Which instruments are playing the second layer?
- What dynamics do you hear? What is the tempo?
- What does this music remind you of?
- Based on what you hear, what kind of character is Mars?
- Document your responses in the “Mars” Listening Map (PDF) using music vocabulary that you know or choose from the word wall.
- Create a movement to accompany each of the layers.
Who is Mars?
- Gustav Holst wrote music inspired by the planets and the mythological gods for whom the planets were named. In Link Up, we listen to his music for “Mars, the Bringer of War.”
- Listen again to Track 41 “Mars” from The Planets.
- After learning about Holst’s inspiration for “Mars,” does the music sound different to you?
- What scenes do you imagine for the music now?
- How would you change your movements to the music?
Holst’s The Planets
This orchestral suite highlights the characteristics of each planet in the solar system and the Roman god for which it is named. “Mars” is just one movement in the suite—here are the others: Venus, the Bringer of Peace; Mercury, the Winged Messenger; Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (Cheerfulness); Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, the Magician; Neptune, the Mystic.
New Music for the Planets
- Name the other planets in the solar system with your students.
- What are some characteristics of those planets?
- Using My Music for the Planets (PDF), ask your students to choose a planet or invent a new one. Have them draw that planet on a sheet of blank paper, and list its qualities on the activity sheet.
- Create one to three repeating rhythms that you can sing or play, inspired by those qualities.
- Perform each rhythm individually, then perform the rhythms as overlapping layers.
- Describe how a full-orchestra version of your theme might be played, naming instruments, dynamics, and tempos.
- Share your work with Carnegie Hall by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.