Learning Activity #2: Serialism Meets Pantomime

Educational Focus:

Students learn about the concepts of an orchestral suite and pantomime. They compare two pantomime movements of John Beckwith's Music for Dancing and create characters and stories to go along with the music.

Materials

Audio assets: Excerpts I – III from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
Text asset: Suite Selections
Flash asset: Score pages from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
Audio asset: Excerpt from Diversion for Orchestra: An Entertainment by Murray Adaskin
Text asset: Diverting Divertimentos

Lesson Map

I. Listen

  • Distribute copies of the flash asset of score pages from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith.
  • Share with students:
    • The following excerpt is an example of a serialist composition. It makes use of a set of short motives or melodic ideas to create a composition. Follow the score as you listen looking for repetition and overlap of these motives.
  • Listen to Excerpt I from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith.
  • Discuss: List the motives you heard (on chalkboard staffs or whiteboard).
  • Share: This movement has three different sections with a repeat of the first section at the end.
  • Ask: How does the composer overlap and loop these motives to create contrasting sections? Does he use different motives in each section? (1:04)

II. Compose

  • Break students into groups of three.
  • Have groups choose three of the short motives from the score. (Transpose for students if necessary.)
    • Compose a one-minute or less trio using these three motives.
    • How will you compose a different section using the same motives?
  • Perform these compositions for the class.

III. Pantomime

  • Ask students what they know about the term pantomime. What might pantomime refer to?
  • Share the following information
    • A pantomime is a play or entertainment in which the performers express themselves silently by exaggerated gestures, often to the accompaniment of music.

IV. Listen

  • Listen to Excerpts II and III, entitled First Pantomime and Second Pantomime respectively.
  • Ask: How are these movements similar? How are they different? Do you think they are comedies or tragedies?
  • Read the text asset: Suite Selections. How does Music for Dancing fit the description of a suite?
  • Listen to the audio asset: Excerpt from Diversion for Orchestra : An Entertainment by Murray Adaskin. Notice the dramatic playfulness of the music. How is this similar to Beckwith's Music for Dancing?
  • Read the text asset: Diverting Divertimentos. How is a divertimento different from a suite?

V. Group work

  • Break students into groups of four to six. Assign half the groups to the first pantomime and the other half to the second.
  • Ask students in their groups to listen again making timed notes about:
    • What parts are comedic and what parts might be tragic?
    • How many characters might be in the pantomime?
    • What actions might be occurring?
  • Have groups decide on what characters they will include in their pantomime and what the actions will be (timed with the music).

Have groups practice and perform their pantomimes with the music accompaniment.

Excerpt I from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith (0:02:22)

Excerpt I from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith - Play now

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The opening Prelude of Beckwith’s Music for Dancing consists of dissonant strings and mallet percussion exchanging with fanfare-like brass. This gives way to a light, slower dance in the strings and woodwinds, which is punctuated with brass and some percussion.

Excerpt II from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith (0:01:34)

Excerpt II from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith - Play now

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This second movement of Beckwith’s Music for Dancing is a pantomime. The composer uses largely woodwind instruments to create this musical description.

Excerpt III from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith (0:01:56)

Excerpt III from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith - Play now

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In movement four of Music for Dancing, the second pantomime, Beckwith uses drastic changes in orchestration and rhythm to evokes various characters in quick exchange.

Suite Selections
This is a group of several movements, each usually at a different tempo such as fast, slow, rather slow, moderately fast, etc. The grouping may be inspired by a story line, a group of poems, or perhaps by visual images. Often a selection of movements pulled from an opera, ballet score, or a movie score will be arranged as a suite. Occasionally orchestral works of this nature may include a vocal soloist when the term 'cycle' rather than 'suite' may be employed.

Score pages from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith

Excerpt from Diversion for Orchestra (0:01:55)

Excerpt from Diversion for Orchestra - Play now

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This off kilter, lighthearted orchestral dance appears towards the end of Adaskin’s Diversion for Orchestra. The composer gives the impression of an orchestra bouncing from side to side.

Diverting Divertimentos
Divertimento was a popular term used in the mid-1700s to indicate an instrumental work written to "divert" its listeners, meaning something playful, not too serious. 20th century composers began using that term for compositions for which they did not wish to indicate an academic working-out of musical material as might occur with a term such as 'symphony'. Often they would combine this concept of diversion with the concerto idea of the 1700s. Thus these works may have multi-movements, or be a single movement structure.

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio asset: Excerpt I from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
    1948, John Beckwith
  • Audio asset: Excerpt II from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
    1948, John Beckwith
  • Audio asset: Excerpt III from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
    1948, John Beckwith
  • Flash asset: Score Pages from Music for Dancing by John Beckwith
    1948, John Beckwith
  • Audio asset: Excerpt from Diversion for Orchestra: An Entertainment by Murray Adaskin
    1969, Murray Adaskin
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