6th Grade and The Rite of Spring

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fact: The Rite of Spring is one of my favorite pieces of all time.  It's intrigued me since the days of watching Fantasia as a kid.  I don't know why, but I absolutely love it.  All my life I've been a huge prehistory nerd (before I wanted to be a music teacher, I wanted to be an archaeologist) so I love how this work simultaneously sounds crude and beautiful.  My imagination goes wild with stories and pictures of what life was like thousands of years ago.  I've dreamed of studying this with my kiddos, but I figured I'd have to reserve this for if I ever taught high school.  Would an upper elementary or middle school student understand or appreciate the complexity and controversy of this piece?  Most likely not.  Or so I thought.

Back-up to last week.  If you've read my blog before then you know I started a new job this year.  I previously taught K-2 (one year with 3rd) and now I teach K-6.  On top of that, I'm at a brand new school, so my students are coming from several different schools and backgrounds.  Coming out of Christmas break, I wasn't quite sure what direction I would be heading in with my 4th-6th graders.  I have lots I want to do but not enough time to do everything, so I decided to give my kids a survey to get an idea of what they are hoping to get out of music this year.  I had them rank ideas of possible activities and share a little bit about their musical involvement outside of school.  Going through the surveys I was really surprised at some of the answers.  It was insightful and gave me a clear direction of where to move in this second half of the year.  You can download the survey here if you would like to use it.  Feel free to edit it to fit your needs.

Fast forward to yesterday.  One of the top answers from my 6th graders was to listen to music they've never heard before, so I gave them a writing prompt and threw on the 2nd movement from The Rite of Spring.  You know, the crazy one with all the big chords and off-beat rhythms.  I asked the students what they would name the song if they were the composer and write a little explanation why.  OMG the answers exploded.  Their ideas were vivid and their descriptions detailed and well-thought.  All of them were excited to share and I was impressed with the depth of their answers.  I was planning on sharing another song but they were so excited by this that I decided to go a completely different direction.

I gave a brief synopsis of the ballet and told the story of the premier, describing how outrageous the performance was given the time period.  This of course led to them wanting to see it for themselves, so I pulled up the Joffrey Ballet performance from the 80's, which I had watched before.  It is believed to be the closest to the original choreography and is pretty incredible.  Ideas were flying all over the place.  "This is crazy!  This is awesome!  This is creepy, but kind of cool!"  All sorts of comments you'd expect from a sixth grader, but they were taking an interest in one of my favorite pieces of music!

(Here are the videos if you're interested in seeing these.  I would suggest using this since several other interpretations I've found are very inappropriate.)
Joffrey Ballet Rite of Spring part 1/3
Joffrey Ballet Rite of Spring part 2/3
Joffrey Ballet Rite of Spring part 3/3

When all was said and done I asked them to show me with thumbs up/down how they felt about the song.  Almost all of them had a thumbs up and were frantically writing down the title and composer to find it and listen to it at home.  Mind. Blown.  You've got to love those days where you're not quite sure where your class is going to lead, but it goes in a direction all its own and turns into something wonderful.

Have you ever had a class where the unexpected happened and your students left you feeling excited and like you had an impact on them that day?  I'd love to hear about your experiences!
 
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