This week, third grade was studying the solar system in science. I decided that this would be a good opportunity to introduce them to Gustav Holst’s composition, The Planets. After a short introduction to each of the Roman gods who the planets are named after, I played the first movement and asked the students to try to guess which planet the music was describing. In every class, the first student I called on answered correctly with Mars. And in every class, students were able to name off all of the right clues that led them to that answer — lots of brass, drums, “makes me feel like marching,” etc. They enjoyed it so much that some students requested that they try a movement every day and then have a listening test at the end!
Since I had the CD in the CD player, I played a little “Jupiter” for my kindergarteners and first graders when they came to music class. As it turns out, Holst’s orchestral music is the ultimate in dance party music for five to six year olds. I wouldn’t let them dance during their first time listening it, but told them they could move as long as they stayed sitting and didn’t make noise. It was interesting to see so many of them imitate playing different instruments that they were hearing, everything from violins to trombones. When I asked how the music made them feel, I got some surprising answers like “scared” and “creepy,” and some awesome answers like “It makes me feel like a T-rex.”
At the end of the kindergarten classes, I played the recording again and let them dance. There were partner dances, ballroom dances, ring dances, and dances that I don’t even know how to describe. One little boy stood at the edge of the “dance floor” and conducted in such an engaged way that I’m pretty sure that he was actually seeing an orchestra in front of him. I went over to him to comment on how he was conducting, and told me, “Yes, I’m going to be a conductor when I grow up.” I think he would make a good one.