Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Who's Dancin' Now?
Home Arts Education in Your Community Educational Resources Talk With Your Community National Dance Institute The Film
Who's Dancin' Now?

primer on arts education
teaching materials
lesson plans
cirriculum guides
outreach & development
outreach & development

Quick Links
  • Objectives
  • Suggested Materials
  • Preparation
  • Teaching Procedure
  • Assessment Recommendations
  • Relevant National Standards
  • References/Resources
  • About the Authors
  • Sounds, Stories, and Symbols: Power of the Podium
    By Lori Custodero and Danette Littleton

    Grade Level: 6-12

    In a scene from the film version of AMADEUS, the superstar is late for a performance and the orchestra starts to play without him. The comedic situation - at least to Mozart - begs the question: Why is a conductor necessary? Seeking this answer takes students to the heartbeat of music's sounds, the gestures and symbols through which conductors convey musical meaning, and amazing stories of failure, fame, and triumph.

    Scope and Use of Activities
    Through multi-media explorations, students will investigate and experience the development, art, and authority of conducting music and music ensembles.

    These activities are presented in ascending order of challenge. Each activity is designed as a separate session; however, you may wish to combine two or more activities for a longer session or use all the activities as a project over several weeks. We invite you to let your students' creativity and imagination guide this work. The best ideas may just pop-up as you work with your students. "What if we try it this way?" is a great question; it always means that something exciting is about to be discovered.


    Students will:

    1. Investigate the development of orchestral conducting:
    • Examine gesture and non-verbal communication,

    • Trace the rise and entitlement of the composer-conductor,

    • Consider the impact of social, political, and technological change on music and musicians in the 19th and 20th centuries.
    2. Examine the art and authority of conducting:
    • Trace the advancement of great conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries

    • Understand how conductors communicate non-verbal thoughts and ideas,

    • Learn about musical knowledge and skills required of symphony conductors, such as knowing the score, playing 100 instruments as one, understanding the composer's intent, expressing musical meaning

    • Investigate facts versus myths of great conductors, such as personality and lifestyle, temperament and temper, origins and ethnicity, genetic inheritance and environment.
    Back to Top

    Suggested Materials

    PBS Resources
    Videotapes, audio CD recordings, and books from PBS. For Thirteen/WNET productions, call (800) 336-1917.

    • GREAT COMPOSERS- VHS and audio CD

    • Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns- VHS



    • GIFT OF MUSIC: Leonard Bernstein, VHS, audio CD

    • THE ART OF PIANO-VHS, audio CD, book








    Back to Top


    Select excerpts (timed edit points) from the Thirteen/WNET VHS program, LEGENDARY MAESTROS: THE ART OF CONDUCTING. Compare Leonard Bernstein's passionate style, Klemperer's power and authority, Furtwangler's embodiment of the music, Toscannini's precision, Stokowki's showmanship, and Fritz Reiner's restraint.

    Choose two contrasting musical selections from the CD audio recording of LEGENDARY MAESTROS: THE ART OF CONDUCTING.

    Preview PBS VHS and audio CD recordings: GREAT COMPOSERS: Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Puccini. Focus on their struggle and success as conductors of their own music.

    Choose selections from the PBS VHS series, JAZZ:A FILM BY KEN BURNS. Compare jazz ensembles with and without conductors and examine the difference.

    Choose selections from the VHS series, ROCK & ROLL. Search for rock leaders who demonstrate control over the group or band's stage performances and explain how.

    Preview the VHS tape and audio CD recording, PAPAL CONCERT TO COMMEMORATE THE SHOAH. Reflect on the concert and its significance, the music performed, the performers, and their stories.
    Back to Top

    Teaching Procedure

    Activity One: Introduction: Gesture as Communication

    "What settings or situations call for non-verbal, human communication? Raise your hand if you have an answer. Can you show your answer without speaking? Who wants to try?"

  • Signing for those who are hearing-impaired
  • Games like charades
  • Silent movies
  • Pantomime
  • Conducting

    Guide students to:
  • Expand the classroom discussion,
  • Summarize ideas
  • Document their conclusions by making a simple flip-chart or creating a bulletin board

    Activity Two: Brainstorming: "Who's the Leader of the Band?"

    Compare, contrast, and create a profile of music leaders, music directors, and conductors who by their authority, start, stop, and control instrumental music performances. Use audio and videotape examples to generate discussion and analysis.

    What type of leader is required for these music groups:
    • Marching Band (audio or video tape example)
      Who leads? In what style or technique?
      Is a leader necessary? Why? Why not?
      Describe the style of music,
      What instruments are played?
      Where do they rehearse and perform?

    • Jazz Band: JAZZ: A FILM BY KEN BURNS
      Who leads? In what style or technique?
      Is a leader necessary? Why? Why not?
      Describe the style of music,
      What instruments are played?
      Where do they rehearse and perform?

    • Rock Band: ROCK & ROLL
      Who leads? In what style or technique?
      Is a leader necessary? Why? Why not?
      Describe the style of music,
      What instruments are played?
      Where do they rehearse and perform?

      Who leads? In what style or technique?
      Is a leader necessary? Why? Why not?
      Describe the style of music,
      What instruments are played?
      Where do they rehearse and perform?
    Guide students to:
  • Expand the classroom discussion,
  • Summarize their ideas,
  • Document their work by:
      Making a simple flip-chart,
      Creating a bulletin board or classroom display
      Designing a learning center
      Planning and implementing a multi-media presentation
    Activity Three: "Maestro, Take the Podium"

    Prepare students to listen to a selection from BEETHOVEN'S FIFTH SYMPHONY from the CD audio recording: "As you listen to the selection, try to keep your attention focused on the music; think of it as unspoken communication of meaningful thoughts and ideas. As you listen, visualize gestures a conductor might use to represent and evoke any or all of these musical qualities and components: tempo, rhythm, repetition and contrast, melodic character, instrumental texture and musical complexity."

    When the musical selection is finished:

  • Invite students' responses and discuss their ideas.

  • Play the example again. Ask willing students to follow the orchestra as the recording plays. Demonstrate appropriate conducting gestures by signaling:
      downbeat (start)
      follow the beat,
      acknowledge changes in tempo, dynamics,
      prepare for the ending
      cutoff (the end)
    Show students selected segments from the companion VHS program, LEGENDARY MAESTROS: THE ART OF CONDUCTING. Guide analyses of conductor's gestures and expressions:
      Describe the conducting gestures that were particularly effective, musical, and communicative.

      Give examples of the orchestra's response to the conductor's cues. Did you find any discontinuity between the conductor's cues and the musicians' response or unforced errors?

      Write a summary statement of two or more conductors presented on the videotape.

      Choose a conductor and describe in detail the conductor's communicative style with the orchestra:
        Expressive characteristics (elegant, passionate, terse, strict, etc.) Cues (downbeat, cutoffs, time/beat patterns, dynamic and tempo changes, balance of orchestral parts (voicing), attention to thematic material harmonic content
    Activity Four: The Musician's Musician
    Activities for Individual or Small Group investigations

    "As A fund-raising strategy, a major USA Symphony Orchestra offered any individual who donated $10,000 an opportunity to conduct the orchestra at a formal evening performance. In addition to all that money, what else do you think it takes to assume the podium with 100 professionals facing you and 2000 audience members sitting behind you?"

    Look back at the list of Resources (Advanced Teacher Preparation), provide students access to tapes, books, and Web sites. Instruct students to create a multimedia project based on a real or imagined symphony conductor, in a real or imagined performance setting, in a real or imagined historical time and cultural context. Suggestions:
      Write a "news release" about your career as a conductor.
      Take a serious approach or a comedic one.

      Construct a job description for a symphony orchestra conductor. Examine and apply the following qualifications:
      • Conductors need an extensive knowledge base:
          Music's technical and symbolic language
          Music repertoire
          Music's history and traditions
      • Conductors need extensive experience, skills, practical know how:
          Early music training
          Extraordinary musical memory
          Precise study skills of complex musical scores
          Technical and musical understanding of all instruments in the orchestra
          Musical mind for patterns
          Effective and communicative conducting techniques
          Limited rehearsal time
          Pressure, "it's live" no replays
    Activity Five Synthesis: Music in the Mirror of Time

    This final activity requires interest in learning how music reflects the social and cultural contexts of a particular people, at a particular time, in a particular region of the world. We have selected historical pivot points for advanced study and reflection on musical sounds, symbols, and stories. Through these learning experiences - studying and experiencing music - we hope students will better understand the events that shaped the lives of people in the past. Through music, we hope students will experience more keenly that shared desire of all humankind: to express our feelings and be heard.
      Contemplate and compare 19th and 20th century world events that framed the lives of the following composer-conductors:

        1803 Beethoven and the French Revolution
        1907 The Warring World of Gustav Mahler
        1939 The Holocaust and Jewish conductor-composers
        1958 Bernstein, The New World Heir

      Summarize and present your research in one or more of the following ways:

      Design a visual timeline of the sounds, symbols, and stories of music from 1800 - to the present. Illustrate as a mural or craft as a globe of the world.

      Design and present an audio soundtrack of music for an imaginary film on one of the broad topics above or a particular person, place, or event of your choice.

    Back to Top

  • Assessment Recommendations

  • Use preferred quantitative and qualitative assessment tools (quiz, essay, research paper, exam, report, display)
  • Create a checklist of items to be assessed.
  • Include reflection and evaluation by individuals and small groups
  • Make a composite report of the 3-way findings to the following questions:
    1. Observe students' conducting gestures and movement.
        Ask if behaviors demonstrate an appropriate range of expression?
          Reflect original thinking?
          Represent stylistic variation?
          Sustain musical thought through the complete performance?
          Demonstrate understanding of musical style?

    2. Record (audio or video) student performances of learned and improvisatory conducting practices.
        Ask if students' performances demonstrate
          Appropriate range of expression?
          Reflect original thinking?
          Represent stylistic variation?
          Demonstrate understanding of musical style?

    3. Collect examples of student work including reports, presentations, and multi-media projects.
        Ask if students' use of musical symbols and language
          Demonstrates an appropriate range expression?
          Reflects original thinking?
          Represents authentically music, time, place, and people?
          Provides detailed evidence of research procedures and findings?

    4. Guide students in the development of a portfolio of relevant work. Encourage students to continue to pursue interests, knowledge, skills, and understanding gained through these activities. Emphasize independent thinking, discovery, and achievement of personal goals beyond the boundaries and limitations of the present materials.
    Back to Top

  • National Standards

    Intermediate Levels, Grades 5-8
    1. Content Standard: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
      Achievement Standard:
      a. describe specific music events in a given aural example, using appropriate terminology
      b. analyze the uses of elements of music in aural examples representing diverse genres and cultures
      c. demonstrate knowledge of the basic principles of meter, rhythm, tonality, intervals, chords, and harmonic progressions in their analyses of music

    2. Content Standard: Evaluating music and music performances
      Achievement Standard:
      a. develop criteria for evaluating the quality and effectiveness of music performances and compositions and apply the criteria in their personal listening and performing
      b. evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their own and others' performances, compositions, arrangements, and improvisations by applying specific criteria appropriate for the style of the music and offer constructive suggestions for improvement

    3. Content Standard: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts
      Achievement Standard:
      a. compare in two or more arts how the characteristic materials of each art can be used to transform similar events, scenes, emotions, or ideas into works of art
      b. describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with those of music

      4. Content Standard: Understanding music in relation to history and culture Achievement Standard: a. describe distinguishing characteristics of representative music genres and styles from a variety of cultures b. classify by genre and style (and, if applicable, by historical period, composer, and title) a varied body of exemplary (that is, high-quality and characteristic) musical works and explain the characteristics that cause each work to be considered exemplary c. compare, in several cultures of the world, functions music serves, roles of musicians, and conditions under which music is typically performed
    Advanced Levels, Grades 9-12

    1. Content Standard: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
      Achievement Standard, Proficient:
      a. analyze aural examples of a varied repertoire of music, representing diverse genres and cultures, by describing the uses of elements of music and expressive devices
      b. demonstrate extensive knowledge of the technical vocabulary of music
      c. identify and explain compositional devices and techniques used to provide unity and variety and tension and release in a musical work and give examples of other works that make similar uses of these devices and techniques

      Achievement Standard, Advanced:
      d. demonstrate the ability to perceive and remember music events by describing in detail significant events occurring in a given aural example
      e. compare ways in which musical materials are used in a given example relative to ways in which they are used in other works of the same genre or style
      f. analyze and describe uses of the elements of music in a given work that make it unique, interesting, and expressive

    2. Content Standard: Evaluating music and music performances
      Achievement Standard, Proficient:
      a. evolve specific criteria for making informed, critical evaluations of the quality and effectiveness of performances, compositions, arrangements, and improvisations and apply the criteria in their personal participation in music
      b. evaluate a performance, composition, arrangement, or improvisation by comparing it to similar or exemplary models

      Achievement Standard, Advanced:
      c. evaluate a given musical work in terms of its aesthetic qualities and explain the musical means it uses to evoke feelings and emotions

    3. Content Standard: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts
      Achievement Standard, Proficient:
      a. explain how elements, artistic processes and organizational principles are used in similar and distinctive ways in the various arts and cite examples
      b. compare characteristics of two or more arts within a particular historical period or style and cite examples from various cultures.
      c. explain ways in which the principles and subject matter of various disciplines outside the arts are interrelated with those of music,

      Achievement Standard, Advanced:
      d. compare the uses of characteristic elements, artistic processes, and organizational principles among the arts in different historical periods and different cultures
      e. explain how the roles of creators, performers, and others involved in the production and presentation of the arts are similar to and different from one another in the various arts.

    4. Content Standard: Understanding music in relation to history and culture
      Achievement Standard, Proficient:
      a. classify by genre or style and by historical period or culture unfamiliar but representative aural examples of music and explain the reasoning behind their classifications
      b. identify sources of American music genres,trace the evolution of those genres, and cite well-known musicians associated with them
      c. identify various roles that musicians perform, cite representative individuals who have functioned in each role, and describe their activities and achievements

      Achievement Standard, Advanced:
      d. identify and explain the stylistic features of a given musical work that serve to define its aesthetic tradition and its historical or cultural context
      e. identify and describe music genres or styles that show the influence of two or more cultural traditions, identify the cultural source of each influence, and trace the historical conditions that produced the synthesis of influences

    Back to Top



    THE INEXTINGUISHABLE SYMPHONY: A TRUE STORY OF MUSIC AND LOVE IN NAZI GERMANY, book by Martin Goldsmith in tribute to his parents

    PLAYING FOR TIME, book by Fania Fenelon. A personal account of the women's orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau

    THE BRIDE OF THE WIND: A LIFE OF ALMA MAHLER, a book by Susanne Keegan, and film of the same title.


    MUSIC OF ANOTHER WORLD, book by Szymon Laks, and translator, Chester A. Kisiel on the presence of music among the crematoria of Auschwitz

    SINGING FOR SURVIVAL: SONGS OF LODZ GHETTO, 1940-1945, book by Gila Flam

    BEARING WITNESS: A RESOURCE GUIDE TO LITERATURE, POETRY, ART, MUSIC, AND VIDEOS by Holocaust Victims and Survivors, book by Philip Rosen, Nina Apfelbaum (to be published, September, 2001)

    MUSIC IN TEREZIN, 1951-1945, book by Joza Karas

    Great Conductors Online

    EMI Classical Music

    International Alliance for Women Composers

    Back to Top

    About the Authors

    Dr. Lori Custodero
    Dr. Custodero is an Assistant Professor of Music and Music Education at Teachers College, Columbia University has established an Early Childhood Music concentration that integrates pedagogy and research though both theory and practice. Over twenty years experience with young children, parents, and teachers in a variety of musical settings has informed her work - she continues these interactions at the Rita Gold Center for Early Childhood on campus. Her research on musical experience has focused on children from infancy through preadolescence, and addresses issues of musical challenge, engagement, and meaning. She is currently working on the Parents' Use of Music with Infants Survey study, which involves 2250 interviews with parents across the country. Dr. Custodero serves as the U.S. representative on the International Society for Music Education's Commission for Early Childhood and is former chair of research groups for both the American Orff-Schulwerk Association and Music Educators National Conference. An active participant in national and international psychology and music education conferences, recent publications include "Observing Flow in Young Children's Music Learning" (GENERAL MUSIC TODAY), "Context and Discovery: Rethinking the Nature of Creativity" (THE ORFF ECHO), and "Music for Everyone: Creating Contexts of Possibility in Early Childhood Education" (EARLY CHILDHOOD CONNECTIONS).

    Dr. Danette Littleton
    Musical training in piano, voice, and conducting led Dr. Littleton to an academic career in music and music education with professorships in the USA and Canada. As a university professor and educational consultant, she has designed music and arts education programs funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Head Start, and the Getty Foundation, conducted professional development workshops for teachers and artists supported by the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning in the Arts, Tennessee Department of Education, and Georgia Council for the Arts, and created integrated music, visual art, drama, and social sciences curricula for students from preschool through graduate school. Dr. Littleton has worked in radio and television as a writer and on-air performer of music programs for children, directed children's choirs, published works on music education, and made presentations at conferences and universities in the USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and South Africa. Her interests in music and the performing arts are expressed through consulting with arts organizations, teaching young children, and writing about the emergence of musicality. Her area of expertise concerns the relationship between music learning and play during infancy and early childhood when the urge to play and learn is most fervent.

    Back to Top

    back to lesson plans Educational Resources - Teaching Materials - Lesson Plan