Learning Activity #3: Influences from India Part Two

Educational Focus

Students use the elements of music as listening prompts during an initial exposure to Glenn Buhr's Jyotir. They identify how the elements are used to create the impression of brilliance in the music, and map the use of rhythmic-melodic ideas. Finally they learn about and listen for specific cultural influences from Indian music.


Flash asset: Elements of Music Chart
Chart paper
(optional) coloured markers
Audio assets: Excerpts I – III from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr

Lesson Map

I. Listen and Describe

  • Listen to the audio asset Excerpt I from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr. Ask students to make a gesture with one arm to show what is happening in the music during this short excerpt.
  • Have each student think of a ‘rich' word to describe the music. Join with the person closest; share. Discuss the similarity or difference between the partners' answers.
  • Listen again to the excerpt, and have partners create two statements to describe the music, using music vocabulary from the Elements of Music chart. Examples:
  1. The tempo was presto-very fast.
  2. There were constant low staccato chords in the strings.
  3. We heard ascending and descending woodwind glissando-like melodic patterns.
  • Write the title "Jyotir - Brilliance" on a chart. Once again Buhr is drawing on the Indian language of Sanskrit. As students participate in the following activities, gather evidence of how Buhr communicates the idea of "brilliance" and record on the chart.
  • What cultural influence heard in Akasha (Sky) can be heard again in this listening example? (Student will notice that this music also features raga-inspired melodic ideas.)

II. Move or Map

  • Listen to the audio asset Excerpt II of Jyotir by Glenn Buhr. How many different melodic-rhythmic ideas are there? (There are three obvious ones students can describe: the very syncopated melody played by the violins, the horn and percussion ostinato, and the raga-like melody.)
  • Agree on a different gesture or way or moving for each of these ideas. Divide the class into three groups and listen again, each group moving only when they hear their own musical idea. If you have the space, work in scattered formation, exploring different pathways during the movement.
  • (Optional) Divide students into groups of three, with three colours of marker and a piece of chart paper for each group. Create a map showing the appearances of the three ideas while listening again to this excerpt.

III. Identify Cultural Influences

  • Read Buhr' description of the piece:

Jyotir is a brief study in virtuosic orchestral writing. It is unrelentingly fast with several virtuoso sections for the woodwinds and an improvised drum solo toward the end. As the title suggests (Jyotir is the Sanskrit word for Brilliance), the work is strongly influenced by the music of India. It is built on a single seven-note scale with no modulation and there is a recurring pattern of 16 beats over which the melodic material unfolds.

  • Explain that the "recurring pattern" is called a tala, and it is heard in the percussion section throughout the music. A tala has a combination of silent beats and beats that are produced differently for specific effect (somewhat equivalent to our rests, open and closed drum sounds, accents, etc.)
  • Listen to audio asset: Excerpt III from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr, patting a steady (quarter-note speed) beat. How many cycles of sixteen beats are there during the solo? (Three, with the orchestra entering during the fourth cycle. This is typical of Indian practice.) Remind students that the drummer is actually improvising during this music- something that is relatively rare in orchestral music.
  • One example of a north Indian tala is the tintal or teental. Do a quick web search to hear an audio example.
  • Ask: Where else might you hear an improvised drum solo somewhat like the one here? Students will notice another strong influence on this music-that of popular rock music.
  • Share a critic's description: "This (Jyotir) is festive dance music which also occasionally hints at the rhythmic dance music of our own culture, especially in the rock-oriented drum improvisation which occurs near the end of the piece."

IV. Reflect

Discuss or write about the similarities or differences between Jyotir and any other piece of popular music.

Excerpt I from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr (0:00:29)

Excerpt I from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr - Play now

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In this first excerpt of Glenn Buhr’s Jyotir, a fast 16-beat pattern (tala) is introduced by the orchestra, starting out very softly, then building through a crescendo.

Excerpt II from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr (0:01:01)

Excerpt II from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr - Play now

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In this excerpt of Jyotir, many different melodic patterns unfold over the unrelenting, repeating 16-beat rhythm.

Excerpt III from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr (0:01:50)

Excerpt III from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr - Play now

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In this final section of Jyotir, an improvised drum solo continues the relentless rhythmic pulsation which is then punctuated with melodic material from the orchestra.

Elements of Music Chart?

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio asset: Excerpt I from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr
    1989, Glenn Buhr
  • Audio asset: Excerpt II from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr
    1989, Glenn Buhr
  • Audio asset: Excerpt III from Jyotir by Glenn Buhr
    1989, Glenn Buhr
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