The tone poem "Peter and the Wolf" was written as a "present for the children of Moscow" but continues to be a gift for all children. The story is about a young boy named Peter who plays in the meadow against his grandfather's instructions. He saves some animals by capturing a wolf then convinces some passing hunters to help him take the wolf to the zoo. Specific instruments portray the different characters in "Peter and the Wolf." Classroom activities can help reinforce story concepts and teach students about musical storytelling.
Identifying Musical Characters
Composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote "Peter and the Wolf" as a way to introduce children to the instruments. Each character is defined by a specific instrument in the orchestra. For example, the high notes and "chirping" of the flute represent the bird, while the hunters are represented by drums and timpani that sound like gun shots. Introduce each of the instruments that represent the characters. Before playing the music, ask the students to predict which instruments will match the characters. You could ask, "Do you think that the wolf's music will sound loud or scary?" After listening, ask students to describe the music they heard and how it made them feel. Ask them to match up each of the characters with the instruments. Talk about how the music made them feel about each character.
Pantomiming can help children appreciate the story on a deeper level, and enabling them to learn more about the animal movements. Begin by modeling for the students. Start in the "freeze" position, then perform an action for one of the animals, such as the wolf "sneaking" across the meadow. Ask the students to identify the movement and the animal. Discuss this trait and what it connotes. For example, ask the students which other animals sneak, and ask them if they know about any types of people who sneak. Ask them if sneaking is good or bad. Allow the students to take turns pantomiming different actions in front of the class. Identify the action and animal each time, and discuss the trait.
Creating Story Boards
In a musical production, some students might have a difficult time identifying the linear progression of the story. Since some of the action is interpreted via dance or music, the action might not always be clear. Ask the students to create a story board of the events in the musical. Provide blank sheets of paper with large squares for each scene. Ask students to draw the major events of the story, such as Peter playing in the meadow, Peter being scolded by his grandfather, Peter spying the wolf, and so on. When the students have created their own story boards, create one together as a class to help the students fill in any information they might have missed. Talk about the different parts of the story, such as the conflict and the resolution.
Writing the Ending
The story of "Peter and the Wolf" ends with everyone marching together toward the zoo, but the audience never learns if the group made it to the zoo, if the wolf was contained -- or escaped -- or if the duck still quacking inside the wolf's belly makes it out alive. Ask the students to write their own ending to the story, imagining what might have happened. Some might imagine a happy ending, in which the duck is freed and the wolf becomes a star attraction at the zoo. Others might imagine a more gruesome ending, in which the wolf escapes and eats Peter also. When reviewing these endings, ask the students about the story cues they used in creating this chain of events. These story cues should demonstrate an understanding of narrative progression and character.
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