Using directed questioning, begin to explore with the class why people might sing together: to make them feel happy, for entertainment, to express their feelings etc. Put the words to Adventure Song on the board and read as a class. What sort of song is this? Are there any clues in the title?
Learn the song as a class. Keeping the words on the board, use the music provided (if a music teacher is available) or the backing track provided below (if not), learn the song through repetition. Once the class becomes more confident, divide the music into sections for groups of solos.
Split the class into groups and distribute any untuned percussion instruments available. Leaving singing aside, start by all groups playing along to the beat, and then instruct one group to play half speed, then one double speed etc. Following this, instruct one group to stop playing and to sing the song as learnt earlier. Keeping the music playing on a loop, and swap the tasks and instruments between the groups (playing with the beat, playing half speed, playing double speed, singing). Do this until all pupils have performed the song several times in different ways. If any pupils can play instruments, encourage them to join in with the tune.
Importance of group songs for friendship and getting through hard times.
Key stage 3
Play pupils a few examples of famous folk songs or well-known melodies, e.g: Drunken Sailor, This Old Man, Oh When the Saints would all work well.
Send pupils into groups and ask them to make a list of what about such songs make them effective and why people might sing them. Initiate a class discussion guiding them towards the use of positive lyrics to help them feel better when in hardship, catchy melodies, easy to sing etc.
Separate the class into groups and ask them to plan another verse to the song, appropriate to how the characters in the opera would feel at this point. The group should come up with a clear intention for their verse (happy memories of their home, things they’d like to see again, people they miss etc), and a list of vocabulary that they may use, ready for the homework task.
You may wish to extend by:
Point out that inBelongings, sometimes people are singing different songs at the same time to highlight their different emotions or situations. Teach one verse of each of the three songs Swing Low, Oh When the Saints and I’m Gonna Sing to the class. Once learnt, divide the class into three groups and sing them all once, in different combinations around the room.
Take the Red Front Door resource provided and teach the chorus to the class. Explain how the song is a ball game whereby everyone sings the chorus and then whoever is still holding the ball at the end has to make up the next few lines. In groups, ask the pupils to prepare a few possible ‘next lines’ to the song. Play the game, either as a class or in groups. Depending on ability, move onto improvising next lines.
Explore how an opera composer writes for different characters and singers.
Key stage 4
In Belongings Lewis Murphy (the composer) writes for many different types of characters as well as different types of singers – from professional opera singers to youth choirs. What choices does he have to consider in order to make this work so well in one piece?
Play the class two totally contrasting types of writing for the voice: perhaps an extract of Berio’s Sequenza for Voice followed by I Am a Pirate King by Gilbert and Sullivan. Discuss the choices the composer makes and why.
In groups, discuss what can be a composer’s intention when setting words to music. Initiate a class discussion guiding towards examples such as: a raw display of emotion, to tell a story, to represent a conversation, to describe a place etc.
Teach the class the first verse to Lullaby using the resource provided. Put it in context of the opera: it is simple music because not only is it a lullaby, but also because it is to be sung by children.
Explain that when Lewis Murphy (the composer) writes for adults in the opera the music is much more complicated, not just because the parts are played by professional singers, but also because their characters are more mature.
Using the ideas discussed, ask the pupils to write a response to this simple music but for a contrasting character – an adult character played by an experienced singer, with appropriate text.
You may wish to extend by:
Continue this topic by looking at the difference between vocal writing in recitative and set numbers in earlier opera. The first three trios from Così fan tutte with their surrounding recitatives would work well for this. Pace of text, use of instruments, the interaction between voices can all be explored.
Explore the use of instruments in Belongings. Why might Lewis Murphy (the composer) have chosen to have only lower string instruments? What is the benefit of the accordion and clarinet? With use of piano, celeste and accordion in Belongings, this could be expanded into a broader project on keyboard instruments.
Performance and composition
Listening, reading and writing
Key Stage 3: Write a second verse to the Adventure Song learnt in class and using the structure and ideas developed in the group work at the end of the lesson. Encourage them first to write out the first verse and shadow the number of syllables so it fits the music. In the next class this can be developed into a class performance of a completed song, augmenting if possible with any instruments available.
Key Stage 4: Explain that at times characters may sing different music and text at the same time in ensemble. Ask pupils to take Lullaby composed by Lewis Murphy and adapt the response they have written in class so that they would fit together and be able to be performed as an ensemble.
Key Stage 3: Research a further folk song/lullaby, other than any mentioned or used in class. Make notes on where it came from, what sort of people sing it, any other interesting points, as well as their own opinions on its effectiveness. Present to the class.
Key Stage 4: Ask pupils to pick another vocal genre of their choice: choral music, pop music, solo songs etc, and find two contrasting examples of the use of the voice. Either write up a comparison or present with audio extracts to the class.