Keeping Score explores classical music compositions in the context of the composer's biography, the historical era in which it was first presented, and the present moment at which it is played and received. The series offers insights into political, social, and cultural phenomena, the training of musicians, the way music creates character and narrative, the biographical elements that shape a composition, the effect of technology on the arts, and cultural borrowings. As such, the programs are suitable for high school and college level classes in history, geography, and sociology, as well as musicology. Elementary and middle school teachers will find segments of the programs and websites appropriate across the full curriculum: language arts, social studies, science, math, and the arts. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.
The following questions are meant to be used to stimulate discussion in small groups or among the entire class. Following each question are suggestions for classroom extensions and projects.
1. Berlioz, Shostakovich, Mahler, and Ives all used sounds from their experiences and the world around them in their music -- memories, emotions, familiar tunes, holiday traditions.
a. Sit and listen carefully to the sounds around you and consider how you might orchestrate them. What instruments could represent a rain shower? A cricket chirp? The noise of your classroom? How does Mahler create the natural soundscape in the opening of his First Symphony? What sound effects do you hear and how are they created?
b. Divide the class into groups of 4-6 students. Have each group create a soundscape for voices, body percussion and/or found objects that represent a particular place and time, for example, the first day of school, a holiday celebration, or a drive through the main street in town (either have the groups develop their own setting or hand out suggestions that you've previously prepared). Have each group perform their composition and have the rest of the class try to guess the setting.
2. From Franz Liszt to Béla Bartók, from Paul Simon and Stan Getz to Bruce Springsteen, musicians have found inspiration by borrowing from or collaborating with musicians from folk cultures. This practice is alternately considered revelatory or predatory. Under what conditions -- political, socio-economic, artistic -- are cross-cultural borrowing more likely to be accepted as celebratory? Under what conditions are they not? How did Mahler's Jewish identity affect his musical vocabulary?
a. Using the Geography of Music feature, have students choose a composer and locate all the places they worked and traveled. What kinds of folk music might they have heard in these locations? Can you hear any traces of this in their compositions?
b. Using the Geography of Music feature, have students find locations where composers from different countries might have met each other. Have them imagine a conversation between them: what would they find interesting about each other? Each other’s countries? Each other’s music? What ideas might they have given each other?
3. Who are some of the most popular musical acts in your community? Do they interact with each other in recordings, on stage, or through interviews? Are they competitive or supportive -- or both?
a. Have students make a map of their community's musical life. Illustrate this research with a power point or web-based presentation, or label a map with location information similar to the Geography of Music feature.
b. Have students make a map of their musical heroes. How, when, and where do they interact?
4. Consider the historical changes in technology and how they related to changes in the composition, performance and distribution of music in the 19th century and early 20th century. How does technology influence music? How do today's musicians compose, perform, and distribute their music? How is this different from past eras?
Using the Geography of Music feature, have students follow a composer’s movements and identify how the technology they used for composing, performing, or selling their music might have been different at different chronological and/or geographic points.
5. What are the necessary preconditions before a city or region will attract and maintain a musical life? If you were a musician, what sort of incentives would attract you to a particular place to live?
a. Have students look at the Geography of Music feature to identify where the "clusters" of musical activity were at different points. Then have them write an article about the city from the point of a foreign newspaper correspondent. They should include details about the composers, the venues, and factors in the geography that might be responsible for the city’s status as a musical center.
b. Are there geographic centers of music today, as Vienna was in the 18th century and Paris in the 19th? Where are today's music centers? How did they attract musicians, and keep them in their communities? Imagine you are a city councilor who wants to bring more musical culture to your city. What sort of proposals would you make? How can you use historical precedents to make your proposal stronger?
6. When Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) listens to music, he hears echoes and re-uses of earlier musical ideas. Charles Ives "quoted" music quite explicitly, but from MTT's point of view, Shostakovich's "Ta-da!" opening of his Symphony No. 5 is just as clearly a quote from earlier compositions. Are these sorts of quotes stealing -- or a tribute? Led Zeppelin was famously sued by Willie Dixon for copyright infringement because their song "Whole Lotta Love" appropriated lyrics from his "You Need Love." Lyrics are one thing, but can an artist "steal" a series of notes?
Have students choose a recording, listen carefully to determine what influences the songwriter might have incorporated, and present their conclusions to the class.
7. Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 sounds like patriotic, heroic music, and yet many listeners hear dissent, and criticism in the composition. What musical elements contribute to this complexity? Can you think of another example of a piece of music that seems to deliver two conflicting ideas at once? Can you think of similar examples from other media: literature? film? painting?
8. Mahler was surprised and disappointed at the reaction to his First Symphony. What do you think listeners found so disturbing, especially in the music of the third movement?
Explore the interactive multimedia web site companion to Keeping Score, including behind the scenes explorations of Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Ives' Holidays Symphony and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.
San Francisco Symphony
Learn more about the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.
Keeping Score on Great Performances
The first Keeping Score episodes premiered on Great Performances in June 2004. Learn and explore more about these episodes, The Making of a Performance and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in Performance.
Meet the Music
The American Symphony Orchestra League's Meet the Music web site offers ways to discover more music or to find a live orchestra concert in your area.
The MTT Files
The MTT Files radio series, first broadcast on Public Radio, feature MTT reminiscing with (and about) some of the legendary artists he's known throughout his career.
The Hector Berlioz Website
The Hector Berlioz website, maintained by two academics, features essays on Berlioz' life, music, writings, musical inspirations, travels, an extensive bibliography and discography, and numerous photographs, both historic and modern.
The Charles Ives Society
The Charles Ives Society maintains a website which contains biographical essays, academic resources from the Yale Ives collection, photographs and news of upcoming performances.
Wikipedia: Dmitri Shostakovich
Wikipedia's entry on Shostakovich, like any anonymous internet resource, must be read with a critical eye. There is a current academic debate on the accuracy of some of the last interviews with the composer and there are varying interpretations of his life.