Guided Listening #4: Silence as Sound

For this Guided Listening, you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Text asset: John Weinzweig, Dummiyah
Audio asset: Excerpts I and II of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig
Flash asset: Page of the Score of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig (student copies or an overhead)
Flash asset: Dummiyah Composer Map (student copies or an overhead)
All assets are provided below.

I. First Impressions

  • Write the name of the composition and composer on the board, then listen to the two audio assets, Dummiyah I and Dummiyah II by John Weinzweig, noting the musical surprises.
  • Discuss responses. (Students will notice the unusual instrument sounds, and the intense dissonances, but also the long silences between sections of sound.)
  • Show students the image asset of the score from Dummiyah.
  • What do you notice about the way the music ends? Try conducting the bars of silence with your students, as indicated in the score.
  • Read aloud the text asset information about the composition leaving out the second paragraph for now.
  • Ask: Is it important to have this information to understand this composition?

II. Listen and Map

  • Ask students to draw three images on a page to represent: 1. strings (called ‘string mass' by Weinzweig), 2. percussion and harp 3. woodwinds.
  • Listen to the whole piece (available at www.nacmusicbox.ca) or any shorter section, drawing a line showing the route through the three ensembles. Compare this to the flash asset: Dummiyah Composer Map. Discuss the effect of the musical choice the composer made about the form of this piece, and the possible significance of the three very distinct ensemble types used in this composition.
  • Discuss Weinzweig's epitaph for the composition.

Silence is the unspoken word
A shadow of something heard
Silence is the final sound
Of the Nazi holocaust.

  • Ask: Is the musical experience of silence an effective one?

III. Composer Strategy

  • Identify the strategy used by the composer to bring the real world into the music. (In this case the composer used commentary outside of the music to communicate his intent – this was needed to understand the real-world reference.) Add to your Composers Strategy Chart.

Weinzweig (1913-2006) was born and died in Toronto, and was a leading Canadian composer of his generation. "Dummiyah" is the Hebrew word for silence. This work attempts to respond to the horror of the Nazi Holocaust by expressing musical silence – the only fitting response in the composer's view.

The music is mostly quiet, and moves in a very formal pattern from ‘string mass' to woodwind episode to harp with percussion. The ending is very dramatic: the musicians keep their instruments ready to play while the conductor conducts a silence for as long as two minutes, gradually retiring one group of instruments after another. The work was first performed by the CBC Festival Orchestra conducted by Victor Feldbrill in 1969.

Excerpt I of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig (0:01:57)

Excerpt I of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig - Play now

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The piece was written as a response to the horror of the Jewish Holocaust and was first performed in 1969. In this excerpt notice the sound of the harp-and-percussion episode, followed by the “string mass”, and the dramatic use of silences.

Excerpt II of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig (0:03:01)

Excerpt II of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig - Play now

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The piece was written as a response to the horror of the Jewish Holocaust and was first performed in 1969. In this excerpt the woodwinds play three long discordant tone clusters separated by dramatic pauses.

Page of the Score of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig

Dummiyah Composer Map

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio Asset: Excerpt I from Dummiyah by John Weinzweig
    1969, John Weinzweig
  • Audio Asset: Excerpt II from Dummiyah by John Weinzweig
    1969, John Weinzweig
  • Flash Asset: Last Page of the Score of Dummiyah by John Weinzweig
    1969, John Weinzweig
  • Flash Asset: Dummiyah Composer Map
    1969, John Weinzweig
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