I am always trying to find ways to incorporate the other arts in my teaching. My high school choir keeps a listening log where they write informal responses and answer questions to different choral pieces that we listen to in class. Major assignments that I give once a marking period are basically an expanded version of a listening log entry. Students can work alone or in groups; I have done both but I would prefer to not grade 80+ essays, so they are working in groups for this activity. You need to introduce them to basic listening and responding BEFORE you give them an assignment like this. A listening log where they only have to write a couple of sentences is a good start. This takes the music a step beyond just notes and rhythms. These types of assignments are easy to create; especially good are compare/contrast topics with two different choirs singing the same song -- what's the difference? Or compare/contrast two sections from completely different masses, for example, the Agnus Dei sections from Rutter's Requiem and Fauré's requiem. I have done these in class and the kids really like it. They grumble a little, but I only give one assignment per marking period, so they really can't complain. The handout for the kids is below.
Sr. High Chorus Assignment #2
Listening Music: Agnus Dei by Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
Agnus Dei, Lamb of God,
qui tollis peccata mundi, that takes away the sin of the world,
dona eis requiem sempiternam. grant them rest everlasting.
A requiem is a funeral mass. It has at least five movements, sometimes as many as ten. Agnus Dei is a section or movement within the mass that asks God to grant eternal rest to the dead. In a full two- to three-page typed essay, answer the following questions according to our class discussion and your own opinion. READ ALL THE PARTS AND ANSWER EVERY QUESTION COMPLETELY.
The essay should be typed in 12-point size, double-spaced, Times New Roman font, and have no more than 1.25" margins at the sides, top, and bottom. Please make sure you check spelling and grammar. I will not accept disks or papers that are not typed, as you will have a full week to work on them, which is plenty of time to make sure that your printer works or to take it to another printer. As we listen and discuss in class, make sure you take detailed notes. I will try to provide an additional listening time for those who wish to hear the music again. Please turn in papers on time -- they are lowered a letter grade each class day they are late.
1. Describe the mood of this piece.
Does that feeling or mood stay the same throughout the movement?
If not, how does it change, and why?
2. What are the feelings of the people singing the words?
What are they asking?
3. The words, "Agnus Dei" (Lamb of God) are repeated many times in this piece.
Why do you suppose Penderecki wrote the piece this way?
Does the repetition express the same feelings throughout the piece or does it change the character of the
4. Why does Penderecki use dissonance in this piece?
Using good adjectives, describe the effect that it creates.
5. Draw a simple (or elaborate, if you wish) "plot" line for this piece.
Use different colors or different line types to describe visually where the piece begins, the climax, and the
ending of the piece.
Mark the plot line carefully and include a key so that I understand your interpretation of this piece.