'Scruffy hair, fiery temper'. A chant about Beethoven.


With the simple remit of opening up a world of classical music to children, in 2014 the BBC commissioned an excellent initiative called The Ten Pieces. One of these chosen pieces was Beethoven's 5th Symphony that continues to inspire and capture children's imagination today. I love its introductory concepts and the energy it brings to the classroom.

Being a fan of reading aloud, when delivering this topic, I enhance the lessons with short excerpts from the book Why Beethoven Threw the Stew written by the world-renowned cellist Steven Isserlis. His humour and excellent descriptions really give the reader, or in this case, the listeners a wonderfully colourful insight to Beethoven's life, focusing on his manner and of course, his cruel struggle with deafness. It manages to cleverly elicit numerous questions from the children while drawing out immense sympathy for the maestro. Using Isserlis' gruff descriptions of Beethoven, I wrote a short chant that summarised and captured his flamboyant life which we used to great effect in the Year 5 classroom:

We used the chant to explore pulse-work, light and shade, rhythm-work, and enjoyed experimenting with a contrast in dynamics and tempo. Articulating and emphasising certain words was also a lot of fun. Finally, we split into groups to perform the chant as a 4-part round which required a lot of concentration. This is standard Kodály-based training that I embed in all of my music lessons.

Taking the opening bars and its now ubiquitous 'Da-da-da-daaah' pattern, we used the Call & Response concept that opens this First Movement of the Symphony by splitting into 2 groups. The conductor simply says the words 'Beethoven 5' (you'll notice that the syllables match the ‘da-da-da-daaah’ rhythm) before Group 1 echoes back. The conductor does the same again but this time to Group 2 and then points to either Group 1 or 2 or back to himself but in time with the opening bars of the symphony. It must be in time and match the phrasing exactly - it's a hoot!

An example as there are numerous permutations possible:

Teacher: Beethoven five.
Group 1: Beethoven five.
Teacher: Beethoven five, Group 2: Beethoven Five, Group 1: Beethoven Five.
Teacher: Beethoven five, Group 1: Beethoven Five, Group 2: Beethoven Five.
Group 1: Beethoven five, Group 2: Beethoven five.
Teacher: Beethoven five, Group 2: Beethoven five.
ALL: Beethoven five, five, five. 

Once confident with this, the children took it in turns to conduct and lead this quick-paced activity. Again, requiring acute concentration and the ability not to fall into a state of perpetual giggles, this activity really worked well. Needless to say, they will never forget the rhythm of the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.


Score available on Noteflight.com

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