Saturday, October 6, 2012

Classics for Kids to Know - The Dance of the Hours

The Dance of the Hours

Composed by Amilcare Ponchielli, in the late 1800's as a short ballet within his opera La Gioconda, The Dance of the Hours was meant to represent the struggle of the forces of light (good) and dark (bad), but for kids it really is a fun romp through the hours of the day. Kids can really listen for the different instruments and the differing tones and themes as the piece moves through the day.

This is one of the most parodied and covered pieces of classical music. So just having your kids familiar with the music will help them appreciate these parodies when they discover them.  Disney must have loved it as it was used twice (1929 Silly Symphony) and in Fantasia.  Check out this take, "Like I Do" even if you don't share it with your kids.  If you aren't already familiar with "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah", may I please introduce you?   Then there is Spike Jones.  Can your family car fanatic pick out the honks, beeps and bangs all made by car parts?  I WON'T suggest this one for your kids, but here is Mel Brooks' use of the melody.  What can I say?

The composition originated as a short ballet piece placed within an opera titled La Gioconda.  The opera was first presented in the late 1800's and achieved great success.  The story is about a young singer, Gioconda.  She falls in love with Enzo, but when a rival for Enzo's attention and love saves Gioconda's mother, Gioconda puts aside her desires to reward her mother's savior with the ability to win Enzo's love.  Gioconda is pursued by the villainous Barnaba and a chain of events is set into motion that requires Gioconda to save Laura's life (Enzo's young wife) and sacrifice her own.

The Ballet portion of the Opera is meant as a respite from the drama of the operatic storyline itself and depicts the hours of the day passing.  It is meant to represent the eternal struggle between light and dark, the struggle between the forces of good and evil.

I suggest starting with a drawing activity.  Draw Four lines fairly evenly spaced across a page and ask your elementary kids to "draw" the melody while they listen.  You can help them figure out when the music moves from morning, to mid-day, to evening, to night as it advances through the four movements in the piece.  You might suggest color changes that represent the portion of the day being depicted.  Just see what your kids do and don't worry about being too critical or evaluative.  It is an activity intended to get them listening and thinking about how the choice in tempo, instruments to highlight, use of dynamics and the melodies themselves are used to depict  Ponchielli's interpretation for each part of the day.

Listen a few times, watch some of the clips above - particularly the first one and the ballet followed by the clip from Fantasia.  Dance around to it, sing your own made up song to it,  just have fun.  Then, watch this clip from PBS's Great Performances Series together (can they identify which movement is shown, or which part of the day) and talk about the piece a little more afterwards.

Finally, would your kids depict the parts of the day similarly?  I think  Ponchielli must have had a fairly active nightlife since the exciting fourth movement is so full of "active" music.  Staccatos of somewhat discordant loud contrast the medium to loud volume in the other instruments, crescendos and a quick tempo all make me think not of a battle between the dark and light, but instead, of a grand party with fireworks.  In contrast, most of our mornings are not slow lazy starts as his music would indicate and might be in closer keeping with the more frantic sounds of the fourth movement.  Ask your kids what they think and discuss it with them.

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