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Listening Journal

We recommend tracking what you listen to and your observations about music as you move through the course. Sometimes you might want to ask yourself a question, or simply log the name of a piece or performer you’d like to investigate further. The way you organize a journal can be very personal.

Here are a few prompts that can be used or modified for each lesson.

For your first journal entry, you will introduce a family member or friend to one of the composers covered in this lesson:

  1. Select a piece of music from the time period covered by this lesson (6th through 16th centuries).
  2. Explain how it fit into the rest of the composer’s work.
  3. Explain why that piece of music is important.

The goal is for you to share your new understanding about something you are learning to enjoy!

For your second journal entry, you will introduce a family member or friend to one of the musical forms discussed in this lesson that is new to you, i.e. opera, sonata, chorale, etc.

  1. Provide a clear definition of the musical form you are going to discuss;
  2. Select a piece of music in that form and from the time period covered by this lesson (16th through the early 18th centuries).
  3. Explain how it is a representative example of the musical form you chose.
  4. Explain why that piece of music is important.

Hopefully, you both will learn something and want to listen to more!

This lesson requires a good bit more listening than earlier lessons, so the journal assignment is designed to support your viewing of the performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are some ways to keep the journal as you listen:

  • Simply make observations as you watch the performance, i.e., “When the entire choir enters at the 7 minute mark, it gives the piece a huge amount of energy”;
  • Periodically make note of instruments you can identify by name;
  • Note the passages where the lyrics (or captions) demonstrate an excellent combination of verbal meaning and musical artistry, i.e., “When the bass sings this part alone, it matches the loneliness of the character in the text”.

Try to explain to a family member or friend the reasons a piece is composed for the organ versus another keyboard instrument. You’ve now viewed several performances on various instruments, and are on your way to getting more familiar with their sounds.

Bach’s work will be particularly helpful for comparison since he was an instrumental composer before a vocal composer.

  • Take an organ piece not discussed at length in the reading (perhaps from the audio playlists), and explain how it demonstrates the strengths, functions, and unique sounds of the organ that would not be capable on another keyboard instrument.
  • It may help to think of things the other way round, and take harpsichord music and consider why it would sound different on an organ, or why it wouldn’t take advantage of the larger instrument with a pedal board and other features.

Research Papers

The following prompts are organized by lesson and provide a way to include short writing exercises (1/2-1 page).

  • Research one of the ecclesiastical (church) locations where a performance of a work from this lesson would take place. How is it different from most churches today? How did church vocal music take advantage of the features of this building?
  • There is a lot of Latin in the music from this lesson. (And there will be more…) Write a short description of why this is the case during the time period of this lesson.
  • Several times in this lesson there is mention of one composer being influenced by another from a different country. While this would be a trivial occurrence in our day, cross-country travel would be far less common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pick any two composers from the lesson and research how one was influenced by the other. Did he hear a piece performed? Did he visit the other composer? Did someone relay a tune he had heard? Be a bit of a detective…
  • Draw from your knowledge of history and connect a composer or piece of music to the development of Protestantism in Europe.
  • Discover more ways in which Handel’s faith inspired his compositions. Make special note of inspiring quotations like those already in this lesson’s reading.
  • Words like ‘Allemande,’ ‘Courante’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Menuets,’ and ‘Gavotte’ are some of the words used by Handel (and other composers) to indicate movements or sections of a sonata. You’ve read that they are words related to European dance forms. Research and define as many of these as you can. Have your findings handy when next you listen to a sonata, and look for the music to exemplify the qualities of each particular dance.
  • The video “What is a Cantata” in this lesson’s reading hints at the tremendous amount of work to which Bach devoted himself consistently for the weekly preparation of new cantatas for Sunday worship. Some of the tasks are indicated in the video, but try to discover what Bach’s weekly schedule included. You may need to find a good biography of the composer to reference.
  • Research the recovery of one piece (or a collection of, say, sonatas) of Bach’s work after its neglect in the 18h century. How close were we to losing the chance to ever hear this work?

Projects

The following ideas for each lesson can be developed with your parent/teacher into a project of appropriate scope.

  • Renaissance composers
    • Writing: Discover a contemporary composer in a country not covered in this lesson. How did his music compare? Who or what influenced his compositions? Who were the equivalents to minstrels, troubadours, or minnesingers in his homeland?
    • Art: Create a portrait, bust, or collage of one of the composers studied in this lesson.
  • Renaissance instruments
    • Writing: Explain the invention and operation of any instrument discussed in this lesson. Compare its sound and that of a contemporary instrument from a country not discussed in the lesson.
    • Art: Create a “how-to” poster, infographic, or other presentation of the way to make music on an instrument.
  • Composers
    • Writing: Take one of the composers discussed in this lesson and imagine he was born in a different country. How might his music have been different? Take one of his famous pieces and describe how various parts of it might have changed, and note how the instruments for which he composed might have been different.
    • Art: Create a portrait, bust, or collage of one of the composers studied in this lesson.
  • Instruments
    • Performance: Sit down at a piano or keyboard in “piano” mode. [Perhaps ask your church office if they have one on which you can practice.] Whether you can play a tune or just an assortment of keys, try to get different types of sounds from the instrument (try the foot pedals!). Then, compare the sounds you are making and those made by a harpsichord and an organ in the selections from this lesson. How are they different? For what types of music is each instrument suited?
    • Art: Create a “how-to” poster, infographic, or other presentation of the way to make music on an organ or harpsichord.
  • Writing
    • Compile a list of scripture references for the parts of one of Handel’s works based on the Bible. You may surprised at the amount of scriptural language used throughout the piece! Figure out how to present your findings to family and friends.
  • Art
    • Simple: Write the script for a commercial that could have been used to draw audiences to a performance of one of Handel’s works—if they had radio, television, or the Internet!
    • Intermediate: Design an attractive announcement, handbill, ticket, or poster for a performance (historical or modern) of one of the pieces in this lesson.
    • Advanced: Research the original performance of Messiah at Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and create an authentic advertisement to attract an audience.
  • Listening
    • In Handel’s Instrumental Music, the closing comment made reference to the development of “color” or “layering” of instruments that would surpass Handel in the works of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. While that will become clearer in future lessons on those composers, you can make a start now. Pick an overture from Handel from among this lesson’s playlist and then listen to the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (which you’ve probably already heard in part—or jump ahead to Lesson 7). How do they compare? How are (some) instruments used differently by Beethoven? This is the beginning of listening with an ear for comparison and contrast.
  • Writing
    • In this lesson, you read that “it was to Felix Mendelssohn in the 19th century that the world owed the discovery of so much of Bach’s music.” Discover why this was so, and how Mendelssohn shared this discovery. (You will learn a bit more about this in the next lesson.)
    • Compile a list of scripture references for the parts of one of Bach’s works based on the Bible. You may surprised at the amount of scriptural language used throughout the piece! Figure out how to present your findings to family and friends.
  • Art
    • Simple: Write the script for a commercial that could have been used to draw audiences to a performance of one of Bach’s works—if they had radio, television, or the Internet!
    • Intermediate: Design an attractive announcement, handbill, ticket, or poster for a performance (historical or modern) of one of the pieces in this lesson.
  • Listening
    • Take a work like The Well-Tempered Clavier or The “Goldberg” Variations and assemble recordings played on various keyboard instruments. What does playing on a piano add (or subtract) from the recording on the clavichord or harpsichord? You can also find transcriptions (think of these as translations between instruments) of the works for stringed instruments, or even small ensembles. Here are a few to get you started. (Apple Music links as well.)