Beethoven: The Universal Composer
This lesson affords opportunities for the learner to:
• Practice listening to a lecture given by a speaker of British English (which may be encountered in Europe)
• Practice speaking in English by discussing Beethoven’s music and the notion of his universality as a composer
• Transcribe and analyse a segment of the lecture for the purposes of noticing and practicing salient pronunciation and grammar features
• Self-correct and receive corrective feedback
• Reflect on useful tools for the learner’s continuing English studies and as a musicologist/professor
Materials: Video from the Library of Congress: Beethoven: The Universal Composer
Before watching the video:
1. Read the summary:
Summary: Beethoven: The Universal Composer
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris discussed his new book, "Beethoven: The Universal Composer." The Library's Music Division cosponsored the event with the Center for the Book. Morris, a classically trained pianist, has studied Beethoven and his music for 40 years. "Of all the great composers, Beethoven is the most enduring in his appeal to dilettantes and intellectuals alike," Morris writes. "What draws them is Beethoven's universality, his ability to embrace the whole range of human emotion, from dread of death to love of life--and the metaphysics beyond--reconciling all doubts and conflicts in a catharsis of sound."
2. Think about and speak aloud your answers to these questions:
a. Predict: What qualities or genres of Beethoven’s music do you think the speaker will discuss?
b. Do you view Beethoven as a “universal” composer? Why? Why not?
Watching the Video: (Note: The lecture begins at 5:30, but the previous introduction to the speaker allows the learner to hear the difference between American and British English, as well as become acquainted with the speaker’s background)
1. Listen to the lecture in its entirety. Simply listen.
2. Reflect: Note the percentage of the lecture that you understood.
3. Listen again. This time, listen for the qualities of Beethoven’s music that make him universal in the eyes of the speaker. Make just a few notes to speak from next time we meet.
4. Do you agree with the speaker? Why or why not? Make just a few notes to speak from next time we meet.
5. Transcribe a 2-minute segment of the lecture that particularly interests you or that you find controversial.
6. After transcribing, listen to the segment again. Compare what you wrote to what you hear.
7. Analyze the transcribed segment for the following pronunciation/grammar features:
a. Underline word stress in 4 or 5 interesting sentences
b. Underline syllable stress in words you find interesting, new or useful
c. If notable, underline places where the speaker uses rhythm and intonation for emphasis
d. If present, underline use of metaphor.
e. Underline the use of the past tense in a section you find interesting or helpful as a model for your own speaking/writing
8. Read the transcribed segment aloud.
9. Record your voice, and listen back. Make corrections, record again, and listen back.
10. If you like, reflect: listen to the entire lecture again, and notice the percentage you understood.
11. If you like, listen to the way the speaker uses stories in his talk. Do you use stories in lectures? If so, what kind(s) of stories do you include? What effect have stories had on your students?
• Discuss the content of this video with someone who has also watched it.
• Discuss it again – this time, record your conversation.
• Transcribe a part or all of the conversation.
• Analyze the conversation for fluency, grammar items, new vocabulary and pronunciation.
• Write at least 5 observations from your analysis.
• Use the language points you noticed in writing and speaking and reflect on which ones have become part of your language use most easily.
Check Out My Sample Lessons
December 2021: In Memoriam
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Sample Lesson on Stephen Sondheim’s song “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George
Painting by Georges Seurat: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, oil on canvas 1884–86; in the Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, reference no. 1926.224 (CC0) https://www.britannica.com/biography/Georges-Seurat
Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0AJlmwqfxg Video of song, “Sunday” at the 1984 Tony Awards
Create a cloze exercise using the text of the song with adjectives omitted
Score of the song “Sunday” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George
By the end of the lesson, students will be able to
Use vocabulary related to the five senses
Use vocabulary to describe the scene of a painting
Use the present simple, present continuous, past simple, present perfect and future tenses to describe actions/states of being of characters in a painting
Analyze the use of adjectives in a song text
Pronounce adjective forms with correct syllable stress
Discuss the relationship between a song text and a painting
Discuss and/or write about musical elements that support the song text and mood
Preparation (5 minutes)
Teacher elicits the 5 senses from students (noun and verb forms): sight (seeing); hearing (listening); smell (smelling); touch (touching/feeling); taste (tasting)
Speaking (2 minutes): Pairs discuss: Rate your senses from 1 to 5, strongest to weakest. Sentence starters: I have a strong sense of ______. I have a weak sense of ______.
Optional: What’s the “sixth sense?” (perception, intuition)
Set schema/elicit background knowledge (5 minutes)
Introduce painting by Georges Seurat: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
T asks: Have you ever seen this painting? What do you know about it? (Elicit or instruct re pointillism: a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism. (Wikipedia)
Students view the painting; include its title on the board
Vocabulary (8 minutes)
Students take 2 minutes to silently name in English as many items in the painting as they can. After that, students can ask classmates or the teacher to identify the items they wanted to name but could not.
Think/Pair/Share: (3-8 minutes) Pairs imagine they themselves are in the scene and describe their experience using the five senses: I see, I hear, I feel, I taste, I smell. If desired, pairs share with another pair (Students dictate and spell to teacher their ideas on the board, categorized by sense)
Grammar Review (8 minutes)
Pairs choose two characters in the painting and ask and answer the following questions:
What is he/she doing now?
What do the characters see, hear, smell, touch or taste?
What did he/she do before coming to the park?
Has he/she ever visited this park before? If so, when?
What does he/she think of it? Why?
What will he/she do if he/she returns to the park in the future?
Discussion and activities to choose from (20-30 minutes)
Whole class: T elicits: Which adjectives best describe this park? Students write on the board or dictate to teacher to write
Introduce Stephen Sondheim and elicit what students know about him, his work in creating American musicals. T explains that Sondheim wrote the lyrics and score of a musical called “Sunday in the Park with George” based on Seurat’s painting. One of the songs is called “Sunday.” In it, he uses many adjectives to describe this park.
Students read the cloze exercise for “Sunday”. Think/pair/predict: Did Sondheim use some of their adjectives from the board or different ones?
Students listen to the song “Sunday.” They listen for the adjectives and fill in the blanks. Pairs compare. Listen again. T elicits the types/categories of adjectives in the song and which senses they connect to or asks students to categorize them with a partner, giving an example to start.
Sense of sight:
colors: blue, purple, yellow, red, green, orange, violet
shapes: triangular, elliptical (verticals is used as a noun)
Sense of touch: cool, soft
Other adjectives: (quality): perfect, small, suburban, ordinary
syllable stress of adjective forms: TRIangle changes to triANgular; eLLIPtical; SUburb changes to SuBURban
Elicit pronunciation of other adjectives and customize instruction depending on students’ needs
Make it physical! I suggest using the Haptic Butterfly technique for syllable stress
Read the text in its entirety. Small groups discuss:
What are the people in the painting doing, according to Sondheim? (Passing through their perfect park, pausing on a Sunday, passing through arrangements of shadow toward the verticals of trees, strolling through the trees.)
Are these similar to the activities you discussed with your partner? How are your descriptions the same/different than Sondheim’s?
Sing the song together as a class.
Connect to the Music, Using the Score
Sample discussion/writing questions:
Why does Sondheim use so many adjectives to describe the scene (the water, for example)? (Elicit connections to the painting style: pointillism)
What features in the music complement his description of the park? (melodic notes written for the colors are short, and close together, as are the colors in the painting; quarter notes in the accompaniment for the steady walking through the park; The phrase “as we pass through our perfect park” features long, held notes to convey time spent in the park, etc.)
Which sense(s) does Sondheim evoke about the park in this song? What textual or musical components support your ideas?
Per the teacher’s/students’ interest, a side project could be to learn more about George Seurat and/or pointillism and compare to music written by a musician from that same time period
Listening (15:27 minutes): 60 Minutes episode Diane Sawyer’s Interview with Sondheim – 1988 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XPfnubkFD8 The transcript of this interview can be mined for listening comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation exercises.
Use another song(s) from the Musical to highlight vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, musical textures to support the text, how characterizations are represented in the music, etc.
Warm up question for today: What are 3 things you can do easily?
What are 3 things you can't do (yet)?
I can ride a unicycle.
I can cook a variety of healthy meals.
I can listen to Bach's music for hours.
I can't speak Italian fluently.
I can't play Chopin's 3rd Ballade (or any of Chopin's works for that matter)
I can't play the guitar.
It's your turn!
Watch the following videos:
1. My short pronunciation video lesson on the reduced and full forms of "can" and "can't" to talk about ability (or availability) in English
2. Sharpen your listening skills: Watch this fun performance of the competition duet "Anything You Can Do" from the musical "Annie Get Your Gun" sung by Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2mQGpu9lAQ
LISTEN for one thing that neither Laura nor Santino can do. Post your answer in the chat!
"Teacher, it's too fast!"
Using the reduced form of "can" to talk about ability and availability in English
Happy Birthday, John Coltrane! September 23, 1926 - July 17, 1967
Check out my sample lesson plan (which includes running dictation, a student favorite) about this amazing American jazz saxophonist and composer and his famous composition, "Giant Steps". Gone too soon, but what a legacy!
Sample Lesson on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps – ESL for Musicians
Video: The Most Feared Song in Jazz, Explained
Copies of video description paragraph, found below
Paper and pencils, scotch or painter’s tape
Copies of vocabulary matching exercise below, and paper or online Longman Dictionary for English Learners
By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:
Discuss what they know about John Coltrane (see notes below)
Discuss what they know about “Giant Steps” using the present perfect tense
Discuss their experiences with jazz improvisation using the present perfect tense
Understand and use vocabulary related to a video about “Giant Steps”
Listen to and understand a video about the music theory of “Giant Steps”
Reflect on their experiences of the video
Understand and use grammatical and connected speech features from the video text
Pairs or small groups look at the pictures above and discuss:
What do you know about…
his composition “Giant Steps?”
What does “giant” mean? Why is the composition called “Giant Steps”? What are the “steps” in this song?
NOTE: If students do not know about John Coltrane, elicit what students know and build on it for a lesson on his life and/or ask students to do research and make short presentations on a period of his life, with musical examples
Introduce and discuss the title of the video: "Giant Steps: The Most Feared Song in Jazz, Explained"
Have you ever played “Giant Steps?” (present perfect tense – check students’ understanding/teach this grammatical form used to talk about life experiences)
What does “The Most Feared Song in Jazz” mean?
Have you ever felt afraid playing jazz? Talk about your experience with a partner.
Preview vocabulary from the video description
Students compare answers with a partner. Students can use a dictionary at this point to confirm/correct their answers.
Teacher checks comprehension and elicits word families (i.e., improvisation, improvisatory, puzzling, etc.)
Teacher leads students in pronunciation practice.
Students work in pairs to create sentences (including at least 2 questions) using the vocabulary. Advanced students can create dialogues to practice the vocabulary.
If certain words need more scaffolding, the teacher and students can co-construct sentences
Listening and Writing
Activity: Running dictation: The following video description paragraph is copied and posted in several locations in the hallways.
John Coltrane, one of jazz history’s most revered saxophonists, released “Giant Steps” in 1959. It’s known across the jazz world as one of the most challenging compositions to improvise over for two reasons - it’s fast and it’s in three keys. Braxton Cook and Adam Neely give me a crash course in music theory to help me understand this notoriously difficult song, and I’m bringing you along for the ride. Even if you don’t understand a lick of music theory, you’ll likely walk away with an appreciation for this musical puzzle.
1. Half the students stay in the classroom with paper and pencil ready. The other half run to find a posted paragraph outside the room. The runners read the paragraph, try to remember as much as possible, and run to their partner in the classroom to dictate what they have read. The writers write down what they have heard and ask for clarification as needed. Runners run back to absorb more of the paragraph and dictate again to their partners. They dictate quietly so as not to help their fellow students hear more of the passage. The first pair to finish the paragraph calls out. The winning pair must compare their paragraph to the original for accuracy to win.
2. Pairs or small groups compare their work with the original paragraph and notice where communication broke down. Teacher focuses on salient points.
3. Students underline the vocabulary found in the description paragraph and check spelling.
4. The teacher reads the paragraph. Students listen and repeat, line by line. Pairs read the paragraph to each other.
Comprehension of the paragraph and Prediction of the Video content
Why is “Giant Steps” so challenging to improvise over?
What’s going to happen in this video?
Watching the Video
NOTE: Depending on the students’ English level and familiarity with Music Theory vocabulary, this video can be viewed and/or assigned in sections, after which concept check questions should be asked and answered, and appropriate formative assessments administered.
Students play/sing the tune of Giant Steps and/or improvise on it. Students present on or discuss the experience afterwards, including what they think about the video’s title “The Most Feared Song in Jazz.”
Write 2 paragraphs about how your understanding of “Giant Steps” has changed after watching this video. [Possible frames: Before I watched this video, I thought… After watching this video, now I think…]
Students choose and transcribe 1-3 minutes of English from the video. The teacher can collect the transcriptions and analyse them for further lessons re sentence structure, grammar, connected speech features, etc.
Grammar and Pronunciation: Excerpts from the video description and video text can be mined for grammar structures, pronunciation of vowel and consonant sounds, focus words, rhythm, intonation and connected speech.