Sunday, November 11, 2007
Adagio for Students
I like to play music--classical and instrumental music--in my classroom during quizes, tests, and writing periods. Over the years, classes have latched on to a specific piece, requesting it over and over until it becomes their signature music. They have fallen in love with such things as The Mission soundtrack, The Sage of Lamborene from "The Innovators" CD that I received as a promo at a WordPerfect seminar in 1993, anything Enya, anything classical piano, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and this year, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.
It all started with a conversation about the new music teacher and how he doesn't do anything like the last music teacher. I reminded them that anything artistic is organic, that it is constantly changing and growing with each new reading/viewing/hearing/performance. I told them about a radio show I heard when I was their age where all they did was play the same Brandenburg Concerto but each time it was a different conductor. And each time it was entirely different.
That was the first time I remember thinking about the interpretation of a work of art, but ever since, I've had a fascination about it, and have made a point of paying more attention to the subtleties of interpretation. When I was in college, I took a class in Oral Interpretation and later, I taught it for several years as a senior elective. More recently, as part of my Hamlet unit, I take a class period to show the students a series of interpretations of several scenes: the "To be or not to be" soliloquoy, the "Get thee to a nunnery" conversation with Ophelia, the scene with his mother after he kills Polonius, the grave diggers scene, and the final duel and ending. I use versions with Derek Jacoby, Kevin Kline, Lawrence Olivier, Mel Gibson, and Kenneth Branaugh as the Hamlets.
The conversation about interpretation has spawned other conversations about knowing the author, knowing the context, so you can know where and how to place emphasis. But it's also about your own experience, your own emotions when you are meeting a particular work of art. It's about what you bring to the piece as much as what the original author, artists, or composer brought to its inception.
Last week, I brought a CD to class that has 8 different versions of Barber's Adagio for Strings ranging in length from 4 minutes to 9 minutes, with various instrumentations ranging from the original strings to clarinet, brass, flute, and even voice. One student was so profoundly affected, that he wrote a page and a half about it in his journal. Another went out and bought the CD. Another downloaded his favorite version to his phone. Another googled it and found a crazy jazzy version on UTube and sent it to me. And the seniors have actually relaxed about the new music teacher and are open to his interpretation of the music and are encouraging the others to do be the same.