Working with the hidden hand of Edvard Grieg

And now the BBC’s Ten Pieces are with us ‘to inspire a generation of children to get creative with classical music’. [1]

So let me tell you about a music teacher getting creative with Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (one of the ten). And this is with Year 7 who we might assume are at Egan’s Romantic Stage of Understanding [2], so the topic Music, Story and Far Away Places makes sense.

The teacher has been telling stories and introducing story-telling music to the class and now the teacher’s imagination has created a series of lesson based upon an analysis of the Grieg – 16 beat structure: Intro, 4+2+2+8 with repetitions, an accelerando and with a crazy ending. With this in mind it is a case of let’s make a class piece and this will mean a sustained period of workshop-ing.

The teacher’s approach is what I call the deja vu method as pioneered by Richard McNichol and the LSO Discovery Programme: the teacher abstracts (or is it abducts?) key structural features of the work and from here enables pupils to create a homologous piece(s) in preparation for meeting the work itself as a deja vu experience. Through the engagement of the pupils with the structural features of the work in their own music-making ‘appreciation’ of the work itself is eased.

In this case the teacher is creating the homology through adherence to the work’s 16 beat structure. The first three lessons involve working together as a whole class to create the musical material that will give the structure meaning with motifs derived from the pitch set A, G, F, E. Using a rhythmic and melodic template all pupils make and notate a musical motif/ostinato. Individual motifs are reviewed by the whole class and three selected. These are rehearsed accompanied by the teacher on keyboard as support.

The process is one of drawing out ideas, testing them together, selecting-rejecting, providing time for small group and individual making of material brought to the whole, sifting and sorting – all leading to a piece in which Grieg had a hidden hand. As the piece comes together the teacher plays the bass guitar, serving to ground the performance.

The agreed structure:

Introduction: Unison rhythm on the note A
Middle Section: Ostinato 1 solo
Ostinato 1- all
Ostinato 2 solo Texture gets thicker
Ostinato 2 all
Ostinato 3- all
Gradually tempo gets faster, dynamics get louder!
Ending: 3 sudden stops – restart ostinato faster & louder each time. All end on the note A!

Two lessons are needed for assembling the piece and for intensive rehearsal (one way of thinking about rigour), making the piece into something that sounds satisfying. Managing a controlled accelerando with Year 7 is not easy!

Lesson 6 and time to listen to a recording of the class piece and then time for the music-making of Edvard Grieg. That will lead to questions and a fresh agenda to consider – time for talking, lots of it and integrated with lots of listening ‘in mind’ and with the music sounding; lots of thinking, thinking the music and thinking about it.

No, not some checking off of key words or learning outcomes, but a revealing of meanings made and with the emergence of new ideas to pursue about music and its making: how is it made, how does it work, who does it works for, why does it work – can music tell a story, why not, where shall we go from here? What about that rhythm, let’s play and play it until it changes into something else…

Who knows, we may be talking and playing ourselves into lots of understanding, as long as there is no early closure to what is now an on-going enquiry.

And what do you think about this deja vu approach to getting to know pieces of music? Let’s try another way. Any ideas!

[1] See
[2] According to Egan the Romantic Stage sees children liking facts, going deep and to the extremes, the strange. Loving stories and looking for the transcending qualities of people. Connecting to emotions.


Also: Finney, J. (2009) ‘Human interest and musical development: no knowledge without meaning’. In (eds.) Alexandra Lamont and Helen Coll, Sound Progress: Exploring musical development, NAME.

4 thoughts on “Working with the hidden hand of Edvard Grieg

  1. I have worked on ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ with Year 4s in much the same way that you describe here: the ‘Deja Vu’ method. It was an idea I lifted from Judith Johnson’s ‘Working With Art Music Vol I’. She proposes identifying the clapped rhythm and writing it down in rhythm notation/sticks or just reading the rhythm and clapping it together. Once this rhythm is known the music is listened to and the class experience the ‘deja vu’ moment in just the same way. There is then some thinking about what happens in the piece (instruments used, acceleration, increasingly loud and so on). Interestingly, in her plan, she leaves the story until the end of a sequence of lessons. Another slightly different aspect of her approach is that this investigation of the piece makes up only a portion of her weekly ‘musicianship’ class, rather than the entire focus.

  2. Thanks for this Will. Most of our teaching can be turned on its head without loss. I’ve just thought: what about the teacher, with the music in mind, choreographed movements that cover the piece before it is heard? The ending might prove particularly interesting.

  3. Pingback: No composing before Key stage 4! – Music Education Now

  4. ¡Fenomenal!
    Me parece muy conseguida tu opinión sobre este texto.

    Desde hace ya tiempo no puedo quitarme esto de la cabeza e intento
    buscar toda la información que puedo sobre este tema. La aportación que has efectuado me ha parecido muy beneficiosa, no
    obstante creo que se podría indagar un poco más y de este modo
    poder evidenciar numerosas dudas que todavía considero.
    De todas formas, mil gracias por tu coperación. Estaré interesado
    a similares difusiones que produzcas. Mil gracias.
    Hasta otra.

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