Teacher Guides

Music has been a part of every culture in human history. From an orchestral lens, we can see how our four main instrument families – brass, woodwinds, percussion, and strings – have evolved into the instruments we play today. Predecessors to and current day brass instruments in particular have played an important role in many cultural traditions.


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Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra engagingly illustrates the intricacies of how instruments work individually and collectively to produce the huge range of sounds that characterize the contemporary orchestra. In the stunning finale, the orchestra has overcome its primal distinctions between each instrument family and their sonic personalities to demonstrate unity from diversity in a spectacular finale. 


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With Earth Day just a few weeks before our May concert, we wanted to use this Youth Concert as a way to explore and honor our planet through the lens of classical music. During our program, The Nature of Music, you and your students will hear music inspired by rivers, wildflowers, birds, and a busy bumblebee! Musicians have often used the earth’s natural beauty as inspiration for their music, and they try to use musical sounds to paint a picture for our ears, much like an artist would use different colors to paint a picture for our eyes. Each lesson will help your students explore and experience this connection.


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When we talk about classical music, composers of color are often left out of the conversation. Students often learn about Mozart, but not about Florence Price, the first Black female composer to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra. With our second youth concert of the season, we hope to positively change this part of the classical music experience for the students in attendance. Through our program, Celebrating Black Composers, we hope to uplift and honor Black composers and musicians by telling their stories and playing their music. We’ve created fun and engaging lessons that will help you and your students prepare for the remote or in-person concert experience.


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Ludwig van Beethoven lived a life driven by an unquenchable need to make music. On this, the 250th anniversary of his birth, the Dallas Symphony celebrates his legacy: music that still delights, challenges, and moves us.

Consumed by a towering genius, he lived a life that was complex, inspired, unique, and difficult. But even when he was young, it was clear that he would leave a lasting impact. At the age of 17, Beethoven made his first trip to Vienna, the city that would become his home. There, he was quickly immersed in the life of Europe’s cultural capital, and played the piano for none other than Mozart. Mozart’s prediction: “You will make a big noise in the world.”


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Emotions are a powerful force in human interaction. They often determine how we act and what we say. In our schools, and indeed in society as a whole, many problems are caused by the inability to express emotion in appropriate and helpful ways. Conflicts between individuals – and even nations – can be triggered by emotional responses. One of the greatest gifts we can give students is a palette of positive ways to express strong feelings.

Music has a unique capacity to capture and express our strongest feelings. In fact, both music and art have been used to communicate emotions since the earliest recorded history. This Dallas Symphony Youth Concert, and the lessons and activities in this guide, will help students to recognize the great power of music to express what’s in their heart – even negative feelings – in positive ways.


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Leonard Bernstein, in one of his Young People’s Concerts, explored the question, “What makes music funny?” He goes on to suggest, “The first and simplest way that music can be amusing is by simply imitating nature. It’s one of the oldest ways of making you laugh—by imitating things.” In fact, there are examples of music imitating nature that go all the way back to the Middle Ages, where “word painting,” or representing something (like an animal) through music, was very popular.

A great example of this can be found in this year’s Music Memory repertoire: The Cricket (El Grillo), by the famous Renaissance composer, Josquin des Prez. He writes such a quick and jolly skipping and jumping of notes that it’s nearly impossible not to imagine a cricket rubbing its legs together and hopping around. There are many other examples of animal sounds found in the music of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schubert, Grieg, and Respighi to name a very few. How many others can you think of and share with your students?


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Artists of all disciplines often find inspiration in similar things (nature, folk tales, famous places, historical events, to name a few), and they frequently inspire each other with their creations. The elemental building blocks of color, line, movement, and emotion are crucial to musicians, visual artists, and dancers alike, which is why the DSO has partnered with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Black Dance Theatre on both this guide and the concerts themselves.

These concerts will explore the creative process from many perspectives, starting with music from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite (inspired by a character from the Commedia dell’arte tradition). Also included will be music from La Mer, Debussy’s magnificent tour de force for orchestra, and the glistening opening to Ciel d’hiver (“Winter Sky”), written by renowned Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho.


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Peter and the Wolf

One morning, a young boy named Peter opened his gate and walked out into the big green meadow that was beyond it. On a branch of a big tree in the meadow sat a little bird that was Peter’s friend. “All is quiet!” the bird chirped. A duck came waddling around. She was glad that Peter had not closed the gate and, seeing that it was open, decided to take a nice swim in the deep pond in the meadow.


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Students will engage in focused listening to Swan Lake and respond creatively to what they hear.


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Students will explore the physical traits of the characters from Peter and the Wolf and then use that experience to relate to the music.


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Students will listen to the story of Peter and the Wolf and use sequencing skills to aid in the comprehension of the story.


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Students will demonstrate an understanding of Peter and the Wolf by making and using sock and/or paper bag puppet characters to enhance the story line.


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Students will create a diorama scene from the story of Peter and the Wolf.


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Picture story activities for Grades PreK-2.


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Brassy Brass

In any live music performance, every person in the audience hears the same sounds. But, in another sense, the way each individual listens determines what he/she hears. Some in the audience enjoy letting the music “wash over them”—often creating a sense of escape and/or relaxation. Others may move—outwardly or internally—to the beat. Those who are familiar with the composition may anticipate hearing a favorite theme or episode in the music.

For many students, the DSO Youth Concert may be their first or only opportunity to hear a symphony orchestra. The experience will be more meaningful if they know how to focus their listening on the music itself.


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The students will learn about fanfares and their history. They will listen to a fanfare and make a word bank to use in writing a poem to explain the purpose of the fanfare.


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Students will practice written communication by writing a letter in correct format.


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Students will compare and contrast two musical selections from the DSO Youth Concert.


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Students will develop an understanding that antiphonal is any composition meant to be performed with two equal groups in alternating performance.


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Create a brass instrument by inverting your new mouthpiece into the top of a larger bottle or jug from which the bottom has been cut out. Experiment with the timbre of your instrument by ‘playing’ your mouthpiece into various sized jugs and containers and noting what kind of sound is produced. Try playing your mouthpiece into a piece of garden hose with a funnel on the end for a bell. Try different sized funnels and different lengths of hose. Allow students to try. After a little experience they will be able to make predictions about how a given item will affect the sound.


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Students will become acquainted with two composers whose music they will hear during the Dallas Symphony Youth Concert.


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Advanced activities for music students.


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American Celebration

Students will identify and demonstrate steady beat through movement.


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Through movement, the children will show that music can create different moods. The will also use proper music words such as tempo, beat and dynamics while discussing the pieces.


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Students will display an understanding that music can be played loud (forte) or soft (piano), and be able to use this basic music terminology in describing musical sounds.


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Students will become familiar with Gershwin’s An American in Paris.


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Students will become familiar with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by listening, moving and acting.


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Picture story activities for grades PreK-2.


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Destination: America

Students will increase their aural awareness of the musical characteristics found in the DSO concert music selections.


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Through listening to music, the students will discover story elements such as setting, conflict and character that are reflected in the Overture to West Side Story.


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Students will develop an understanding that music can reflect diversity.


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William Grant Still is characterized as an American composer whose musical works included African-American themes and spanned jazz, popular, opera, and classical genres. He created over 150 musical works including a series of five symphonies, four ballets, and nine operas. His musical training was twofold, embracing the European tradition at Oberlin College, and the African-American in his work with W.C. Handy in New York. He also performed classical music as an oboist with the Harlem Orchestra.


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Students will experience 6/8 time rhythms through tapping, speaking, and listening.


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A timeline of composers.


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Students will demonstrate an understanding of arranging as the art of giving existing music variety, and they will identify variations to a simple theme by manipulating the melody (pitch and rhythm) in various ways.


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The performance of each group’s Theme and Variations not only provides a performer/audience setting in the classroom but also provides an excellent opportunity for students to describe compositions using specific musical terms (part of the Critical Evaluation and Response TEKS). At the conclusion of each groups’ performance, the teacher should lead a discussion on what the other students heard in each performance.


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This past August, musicians from the Dallas Symphony visited Oaxaca, Mexico and worked with many eager and motivated music students there for a full week of lessons, master classes, rehearsals, and performances. As part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Soluna Festival this May, a number of these students will be coming to Dallas to be a part of the festivities.

Why Oaxaca? Because it is a city full of music. Oaxaca was also the musical home of former DSO conductor, Eduardo Mata. As a young boy, Mata had his first music lessons there. At the age of 16, he conducted his first concert there. His shared legacy creates a natural bridge between both cities.

This spring, your students have an opportunity to communicate with some of their counterparts in Oaxaca. Perhaps they will even get a chance to meet them when they come to Dallas! They will be performing in a free concert on May 7 at the Latino Cultural Center.


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The Beat Goes On

Students will demonstrate how instrumental timbre can be used to send messages.


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Students will improve their ability to identify the timbre of different percussion instruments through a focused listening activity centered on Aaron Copland’s “Subway Jam.”


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Students will learn more about instruments in the percussion family by completing a crossword.


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Percussion instruments are the most varied in the orchestra and ‘inventing’ and making them is fun. Below are a few suggestions of instruments that you can make, but you can also find many more ideas simply by doing a computer image search for homemade percussion instruments. In the lesson “Percussion Jam” which follows, you can use homemade instruments as simple as hitting two pencils together, or you can use store-bought ones. In any case, the result will be fun and you’re only limited by your imagination!


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Students will improve their listening skills through guided use of a listening map.


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The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Students will derive, read, and perform the rhythm of Mussorgsky’s “Promenade.”


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Students will be able to determine and aurally identify individual instruments and plot their findings on a listening map.


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Students will understand the impact that Janissary music had on the evolution of the orchestra.


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Students will demonstrate an understanding of the role of the conductor in an orchestra.


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Students will explore relationships between music and visual art.


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Students will learn to distinguish orchestral instruments by sight and sound.


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