Family Listening Activity

Listening to Water Music

We hope to help you introduce your child to music through listening experiences that draw a child's attention to the music itself. While you both have fun together, your child will learn that music can become meaningful as well as interesting and enjoyable. These listening "lessons" don't require parents to have any previous experience in music education. We'll show you the way.

You may want to have your kids draw pictures of the ocean, ocean storms, fountains, or rivers as they listen to the music.

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Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade. Let's remind everyone that music has colors and paints pictures of stories and people. Remember that this music tells the story of a big ocean. The melody or tune that represents the ocean goes up and down and is high and low (like a tall wave crashing on a beach.) Let's listen and see if the kids can tell when the waves get tall and crash.

"Scheherazade, Op. 35" by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, conductor, EMI Records, Ltd.

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Claude Debussy: Nocturnes - Sirenes. This music tells the story of the ocean and some mermaids who like to sing while they swim. What do the kids think they're singing about?

"Nocturnes" by the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Michel Plasson, cunductor, EMI Classics

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Benjamin Britten: Four Sea Interludes, #4 Storm. This composer wanted to paint a picture of a big storm on the ocean. Does the music get loud or soft? Can the kids hear the rain and big waves crashing?

"Four Sea Interludes" by the London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn, conductor, EMI Classics, and Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.

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Maurice Ravel: Jeux d'eau. This is music which tells the story of a fountain, something like the sprinklers that water the grass at home or at school, or a spray of water that comes out of the shower mom makes you take. Can the kids hear the sprinkling of the water in the music? The music also goes high and low and this time is heard on the piano.

"Jeux d'eau" by Jean-Phillipe Collard, piano, courtesy Virgin Records France, Inc., under license from EMI Music Special Markets

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Bedrich Smetana: Ma Vlast - The Moldau. This composer wanted to have us think about a famous river in his music. The river is big and wide and flows along. This water music shows us a picture of what a river might look like.

"Ma Vlast (My Fatherland)" by the Dresden State Orchestra, Paavo Berglund, conductor, courtesy of EMI Records, Ltd., under license from EMI Music Special Markets

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Here are examples of other composers that liked to set water to music:

  • George Frideric Handel: Water Music - Not very picturesque, but this was composed before anyone really had the idea of "painting pictures" with music. Written for the King of England to cruise up and down the Thames on his royal barge.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" - The 2nd Movement is entitled "Scenes by the Brook," the 4th Movement includes a thunderstorm, and the 5th Movement "happy, thankful feelings after the storm." This is one of the first examples of "program music," music that is supposed to tell a story, depict a scene or suggest a mood in the listener.
  • Ottorino Respighi: the Fountains of Rome - a composer of many picturesque works, mostly depicting scenes of life in Rome, Italy.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony - music about the sea set to the poetry of Walt Whitman.
  • Ferde Grofe: The Grand Canyon Suite - A ride on a mule down into the canyon where you get caught in a cloudburst. Also, Grofe composed the "Mississippi Suite," a musical portrait of the "Father of Waters."
  • Richard Wagner: The Ring Cycle - Pretty stout listening (opera, you know), but some beautiful passages depicting the Rhine river and its mythical "Rhinemaidens."
  • Claude Debussy: La Mer - Already represented above, he also composed this piece, which, of course, is French for "the Sea."