Guided Listening #2: Frenergetic!

For this Guided Listening, you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Audio asset: Excerpt from Frenergy by John Estacio
Text asset: John Estacio, Frenergy
Text asset: Opening Overtures

I. Predict

  • Write Frenergy and John Estacio on the board. Ask the students what they think frenergy means. Give a hint that it is a combination of two words. Hopefully they will figure out frenetic and energy.
  • Ask: What does frenetic mean? (Wildly excited or active; frantic; frenzied.)
  • Share the following quote from composer John Estacio.
    • "I decided to mount this music on its own for orchestra. The title comes from an amalgamation of the words "frenetic" and "energy" which were two qualities I desired for the ending of the concerto."
  • Ask: What do you think an orchestral piece with this title would sound like? What kinds of instruments are frenetic? Write down your predictions.

II. Listen

  • Listen to audio asset Excerpt from Frenergy by John Estacio.
  • Ask: How did your predictions line up with what you heard? Can you guess what kind of form this piece is written in?
  • Read text asset John Estacio, Frenergy to find the answer about form.

III. Explore

  • Read the text asset: Opening Overtures. Note the key attributes of an overture and ask students to describe the difference between an orchestral overture written for a symphonic concert and one written for opera.
  • Share: Movies often have "overtures" during the opening credits to set the mood of the story.
  • Listen to the excerpt again, imagining it as the opening music of a movie.
  • Ask: What kind of movie might this be the opening music for? What kind of mood is it setting? Can you suggest what kind of characters might fit with this music?

IV. Assignment

  • Find a movie in your home collection that begins with music you think successfully sets up the mood of the story. Bring it to school and share a clip of the opening music with the rest of the class.
  • Explain to the class why you think this music is a successful "overture" to the movie.

Excerpt from Frenergy by John Estacio (0:01:20)

Excerpt from Frenergy by John Estacio - Play now

Warning: Audio file is larger than 6MbDownload (1.91Mb)

This fast energetic music for orchestra is the ending of Estacio’s overture, Frenergy. Descending woodwinds, galloping strings and brass build to a wild tutti ending.

John Estacio, Frenergy

JOHN ESTACIO: Born in Newmarket, Ontario, April 8, 1966; now living in Edmonton

A thunderous introduction by the percussion, a quirky little chromatic melody tossed back and forth by various pairs of instruments, an ostentatious tune in the brass and a lilting melody in the flute are the ingredients John Estacio mixes into his brisk little five-minute concert opener, a work that truly lives up to its title – an amalgamation of the words "frenetic" and "energy."

John Estacio ranks as one of Canada's most frequently commissioned and performed composers. Over the past decade and a half he has served as composer-in-residence at the Edmonton Symphony (1992-1999), the Calgary Philharmonic (2000-2003), the Banff Centre and Calgary Opera (both 2000-2004). In 2003 Calgary Opera gave the world premiere of Estacio's first opera, Filumena, to a libretto by Canadian playwright John Murrell. Filumena was also performed in Ottawa as part of the opening events of Alberta Scene in 2005. Calgary Opera likewise premiered his second opera, Frobisher, on January 27, 2007, also to a libretto by Murrell.

Estacio composed the five-minute Frenergy for the Edmonton Symphony, which gave the first performance on March 20, 1998 with Grezegorz Nowak conducting. Frenergy has since become one of Estacio's most popular works. The composer writes:

"The title comes from an amalgamation of the words ‘frenetic' and ‘energy.' The tempo for this short concert opener is brisk and the pacing of melodic ideas is often a bit frantic, as befits the title. It begins with a thunderous introduction by the percussion, which establish the infectious 6/8 pulse. After an orchestral tutti, the winds introduce a chromatic melody that is quickly tossed back and forth from pairings of instruments. This quirky little melody often complements an ostentatious tune frequently performed by the brass. The third melody, introduced by a solo flute, is perhaps the most substantial tune of the piece and is strongly characterized by the 6/8 lilt of the piece. A harmonically restless string passage leads into a return of the opening material, and the piece concludes with a full force orchestral tutti along with the pounding drums of the opening."

Opening Overtures
As opera became established in Europe, it was customary for the instrumentalists to play some opening music to set the mood and get the audience settled into their places for the upcoming performance. Gradually this opening music came to have two specific types of structures.

Around 1670 in France, the opening overture consisted of a slow introduction that featured the rhythm long-short, usually written as a dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth. The slow section would be followed by a faster tempo section t hat was often fugal in nature. That is a subject or short melody would be stated usually in the upper register by the violins. this short melody would then be tossed around in the other registers and instruments. Usually at the end there would be a short, slow section reiterating ideas similar to the opening.

Around 1690 or so in Italy, the opening overture would be called a "sinfonia." Earlier this term had been used for purely instrumental music within an opera. The sinfonia at the beginning of the opera was a three-movement structure in the tempos: fast-slow-fast.

By the mid-1700s, the opening instrumental piece of the opera took on the French term, overture. Some composers began to conceive it as belonging much more closely to the ensuing drama. Consequently they began to write a one-movement structure that could hint at the action that opera-goers were going to see. There might even be the insertion of a specific musical reference that would be used later in the opera.

In the 19th century it became customary for composers to compose the opening overture last to draw on melodies that had been used in the opera proper.

20th century composers have used the term from time to time for an orchestral piece that is not connected to a stage work but can be evocative of a situation, a landscape, etc. In Canada, composers often have commissions to write a relatively short orchestral work. Subsequently these short works are often programmed at the beginning of a symphonic concert as an 'overture' to provide "Canadian" content. Schafer made fun of such a commission by entitling his resultant work as No Longer Than Ten Minutes.

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio asset: Excerpt from Frenergy by John Estacio
    1998, John Estacio
Virtual Museum of Canada

To access the Virtual Museum of Canada's complete digital learning resources and lesson plans, visit the VMC Teachers' Centre.