Episode 9: Pictures in Sound


In this activity, students will explore two different pieces of classical music, both written to convey a specific mood, image, or sensation. They will compare these to familiar music that has similar goals - like movie soundtracks.

Grade Level

5-8 (may be adapted for older students)

National Music Standards

6 Listening to, analyzing, and describing music


The Luna Trio The Luna Trio backstage at Carnegie Hall

Music has always expressed human emotions, from love songs to funeral marches. In 19th century Europe during the Romantic period, it became especially popular to compose pieces that reflected specific images, objects, or ideas: the sea, the moon, swans, animals in a carnival, and others. This kind of composition became known as "program music" because of its representative quality. In this episode, all three pieces were written as expressions of specific places, objects, or characters. The subjects were Mercutio (Romeo's good friend from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), music for a café setting, and the wind and the waves. (The other activity for this episode is focused on "Mercutio".)


Computer with media player; projector and speakers if needed

Activity Instructions

  1. Begin by asking students to name some music they like that expresses a particular mood or represents an image. These could be popular songs, classical works, religious music, movie scores, theme songs, or another kind of music. As students name songs they like, write their examples on the board in one column, and make another column for words that describe the music - the images, objects, ideas, places, or feelings that the music brings to mind. Explain the concept of "program music" and tell them that they will be hearing examples on this episode.
  2. Watch the performance of "Café Music" and ask students what about the piece reminds them of dining out, cafés, or restaurants. Does it remind them of anything else? List their comments on the board with those from Step 1.
  3. Now watch the same trio perform the piece "Le Vent et Les Vagues" (The Wind and the Waves) by 13-year-old composer Matthew Woodard. What images do students have as they listen? If this was a movie score, what would be happening - sights, sounds, temperature, location, characters, time of day?

    Crashing waves Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of photographer Jon Sullivan
  4. Discuss what you've heard and thought. What makes the idea of writing music that "represents" something so compelling for composers? How do sounds create moods, images, or sensations? What would a movie like "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Lord of the Rings" be like without the music?

    Matthew Woodard Composer Matthew Woodard in rehearsal with the Luna Trio

Find out more!

About Paul Schoenfield

Composer Paul Schoenfield, born in 1947, lives with his family in Ohio and Israel, and is a scholar of mathematics and Hebrew as well as music. His compositions include Klezmer Rondos and High-Rock Ballet. He wrote his first piece when he was seven years old! Here is what he says about composing Café Music: "The idea to compose Café Music first came to me in 1985 after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray's Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Murray's employs a house trio which plays entertaining dinner music in a wide variety of styles. My intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music - music which could be played at a restaurant, but might also (just barely) find its way into a concert hall. The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray's. For example, early 20th century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Chassidic melody is incorporated in the second movement."

From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top