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The King and the Little Prince (credit: Adrian Brooks)
Web Links: Other Helpful Resources on the Internet
The Sweet Sound of "West Side Story" from Joshua Bell: West Side Story Suite from Central Park
Grades: 9-12
OverviewOrganizers for Students
Borrow a copy of the "West Side Story" soundtrack from your local or school library.

Bookmark the following sites:


Activity One

In this activity students will read an account of a historic event and listen to a song written about the same event. Students will discuss the relationship between language and music as it relates to the event.

1. Send students to this site to read about an historic event.

2. Click on the "Crash of 1929" or the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" button.

3. Read the text and briefly discuss the basic details of the event.

4. Listen to the song that was written about the same historic event.

5. Discuss the following:
  • How was the music used to recount the event?

  • What are the similarities and differences between the text and the song?

  • Which of the two versions made a stronger impression on you? Explain.

  • Think of a current event. What kind of music would you use to recount the story?


Activity One

The purpose of this activity is for students to research the life of Leonard Bernstein and the creation of the Broadway musical "West Side Story."

1. Send students to this site to learn about Leonard Bernstein.

2. Tell students to read the section about Leonard Bernstein and the sections entitled "An Overnight Sensation," "Shakespeare for the 1950's," and "Young People's Concerts."

3. Ask students to answer the questions from each of the sections. (A list of the questions can be found in the organizer section of this lesson.)

4. Pair students and ask them to share their responses.

5. Explain to students that they are going to read the log that Leonard Bernstein kept during the creation of "West Side Story," and compose an interview with Leonard Bernstein based on the information from his log.

6. Group students into pairs and send them to the Leonard Bernstein site.

7. Instruct students to take notes and to think about possible questions to include in their Bernstein interview as they are reading the log.

8. Tell students to use their notes to write a series of interview questions and answers on the topic of the creation of "West Side Story."

10. Ask for volunteers to perform their interviews for the entire class.

Activity Two

In this lesson students will listen to Joshua Bell perform a piece of music from "West Side Story Suite" and compare it to the version found on the "West Side Story" soundtrack.

1. Choose a song from the GREAT PERFORMANCES JOSHUA BELL WEST SIDE STORY SUITE FROM CENTRAL PARK program to share with your class. Ask students to draw or free write about their thoughts and feelings as they listen to the performance.

2. Listen to these same songs on the "West Side Story" soundtrack, and repeat the drawing/writing activity.

3. Ask students to spend several minutes reflecting on the differences and similarities between the two sets of drawings/writings.

4. Involve the class in a discussion about the two pieces.

The following is a list of possible discussion questions:
  • In what ways are the two pieces of music similar? Different?

  • Did your drawings reflect these differences? Explain.

  • Which rendition did you prefer? Explain.

  • What images did the two pieces evoke?

  • Which rendition was more emotional? Explain.

Activity Three

In this activity students will compare "West Side Story" to the Children-in-War opera project, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet-type story from the Balkans. Students will select music to accompany the Children-in-War opera.

1. Read the synopsis of "West Side Story" at

2. Compare "West Side Story" with the synopsis located at for the Children-in-War opera. The KidsOp Web site contains an opera that is based on a Romeo and Juliet-type story that takes place in the Balkans.

3. Working as a class or in small groups, compare and contrast these two operas.

4. Find the sections of the Children-in-War synopsis where it is planned that a song will be included, and ask students what music they think might work well in each instance. Discuss how the music could be used to add a new dimension to the words.

(Note to Teachers: The object here is for students to select music that reflects the mood of the piece. Explain that they are not necessarily concerned with the words from the song but with the mood that the musical arrangement creates. Encourage students to include music they listen to in their everyday lives.)


1. Plan a trip to the "city that never sleeps" -- New York.

2. In this activity students could use the Internet to plan a Broadway and musical extravaganza weekend trip to New York City. This could include the following items:
  • How will you get there?

  • Where will you stay?

  • What Broadway play will you attend?

  • What musical event do you want to attend?

  • What sightseeing highlights do you want to see?

  Top banner photo: Cast from the Met Opera's production of "The Barber of Seville."

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