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TeachNet USA

From Magpies to Messiaen: Birds in Music

Part II - "Birds in Music" A look at and listen to some composers

Inspiration comes to composers in a variety of forms. People have been influenced by nature all throughout history. Whether the imitation of bird song in aboriginal didjeridoo playing to the imitation of bird calls in classical composers' music, bird song has found its way into many pieces of music.

After learning some fundamental aspects of music theory, students will be introduced to music that has been influenced by or includes bird song in a various ways. The music will be listened to and analyzed by the students to gain both a deeper understanding of music and to see how composers have treated bird song as musical material.

Topics covered in this part of the lesson:

-How bird song has been used in music

-Information about various composers who have used bird song in thier music



How Birdsong has been used in music....

Step 1- Read the following article:

Now answer the following questions in complete sentences..........

1. According to the article what are the limits of using standard musical notation to write down the notes that birds "sing"?
2. List several of the types of birds mentioned in this article:
3. What comparisons are made between music and bird song?
4. Why do you think composers would use bird song in their compositions?
This article is a great introduction to birdsong and music in general.
Read an article that discusses bird song and music from a scientific perspective



Step 2. We will be listening to several different pieces of music in class that make use of bird songs in various ways. Choose one of the pieces we listen to and write a 4-5 paragraph essay describing the piece of music and your reactions to it.

Make sure to include the following information:

1. The title and composer and instrumentation of the piece  
2. How the piece makes use of birdsong  
3. How the piece is organized  
4. How the composer makes use of elements of music such as rhythm, harmony, loud and soft etc.  
5. What made the piece unique and why  
6. What you like and/or dislike about the piece and why  
  Submit your essay to your portfolio
Researching the Composers.......  
Begin researching some of the composers who have used birdsongs in their music. Each composer used or uses birsong in a unique way.  
An analysis of Messiaen's "Alarm Clock of the Birds" with musical and birdsong excerpts (translated from a french website)
Clément Janequin
Information on Rautavaara  
John Luther Adams

The official website of John Luther Adams (includes bio, interview info etc.)

Another interview with Adams

Short Biography on Adams

A radio program on Austrailian composers

Episode 5 specifically on birdsong( in real audio)

(We will be listening to this in class)

Information on Images d'oiseau pour orgue (Bird Images) by Viitanen  
Francois-Bernard Mache
A short bio  


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