by Terry Wolkowicz
Could Beethoven be the answer to solving the world’s growing plastic pollution problem? If you ask any of the 4,800 children living along the South Coast of Massachusetts, their answer would be a resounding yes! During the 2018-2019 Learning in Concert program, the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra partnered with over 55 local schools to explore various compositional techniques used by Beethoven that also serve as models to reduce plastic pollution.
The idea for the program came from a simple observation, that composers, like Beethoven, were very resourceful in their ability to create an entire piece of music from a single musical idea or motif. Great composers would never throw away a musical idea after one single use. Beethoven would find the potential from each musical idea through reusing (repeating), repurposing (modifying) and recycling (fragmenting) the motif throughout a piece of music. In the program, the students heard these resourceful techniques through the music of Beethoven. They also considered how they could adopt these techniques of reuse, repurpose and recycle into their daily lives in the ways that they use and dispose of plastic products.
Orchestras across the country consistently search for new ways to connect to their audiences and build future audiences. By providing new ways to access the music and perceive the combination and arrangement of musical elements, listeners can better understand and enjoy these musical experiences. The Learning in Concert program approaches our interaction with children in the same way. By connecting musical concepts to other disciplines that share that same concept, the children can build an understanding from multiple representations. This creates a two-way street, where the understanding in one domain builds and reinforces the understanding in another.
In the “Be Like Beethoven” program, the children explored the concepts of reuse, repurpose and recycle in music and environmental protection. They could see these concepts demonstrated in the ways that we use and dispose of plastic products and through the music of great composers. In the classroom phase of the Learning in Concert program, the children explored Beethoven’s famous 4-note motif from his 5th Symphony. The children used Lego blocks to represent the four musical notes, using three short 2×2 blocks followed by a 2×4 block positioned slightly lower on the lego board. They then repositioned the blocks to represent Beethoven’s reuse of the motif through repetition and sequence. They also repositioned the blocks to demonstrate retrograde, inversion, addition, expansion and compression as Beethoven finds new and different ways to modify or repurpose his musical idea. And finally, they selected some used blocks from the original to compose a brand new melody to show how Beethoven can recycle parts of his original motif into a new product.
In this lesson, the ability to read musical notation is not required to build an understanding of these compositional techniques. There is no barrier between the child and her ability to explore how Beethoven composed his music. The musical shapes are simply illustrated through the arrangement of the blocks on the lego board. The children can hear reuse, repurpose and recycle through the musical performances and see reuse, repurpose and recycle through exploration and discussion of our use of plastic products.
At the Young People’s Concerts, these children came to the concert hall to celebrate their work in the Learning in Concert program. Their enjoyment and appreciation of Beethoven had risen to a new level. As some of the children expressed, they now considered Beethoven to be the G.O.A.T. of music (Greatest Of All Time). They were able to understand his genius and connect his amazing music created long ago to a solution needed for a real-world problem affecting our world today.
Watch as our students teach you how to reuse, repurpose and recycle Beethoven’s famous musical ideas and reuse, repurpose and recycle plastic products to reduce plastic pollution!
Terry Wolkowicz is the Education Director for the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra and the creator of the Learning in Concert program. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Master’s degree in Education from Harvard University. She has presented on concept-based arts integration at numerous national conferences and has published articles on arts integration and the Learning in Concert program in the Music Educators Journal and the A.Z.A.’s Connect magazine.