5/7: Which came first? The Symbol or the Sound?

Third graders have just finished a study in how the many layers of a city can be represented through layered musical compositions.  Using George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" as inspiration, we showed each other what we heard during an active listening of the orchestral piece. Some students heard the cars honking, some showed that they were rushing to get somewhere. Students then worked in groups to compose rhythmic scenarios that take place in our city.

We have now transitioned into our final music unit, with the Central Idea "People use symbols and gestures to communicate a desired musical outcome." During this unit, we will be experiencing many different forms of visual and gestural notation, including as well as examples of visualizations that have been created in response to existing music.  By the end of the unit, students will create new systems of symbolic and gestural notation.

In our initial discussions, I asked the students what music looks like.  The responses were wise beyond their years:  "It depends on what you're listening to. "You can imagine what it looks like."How do you communicate to others what's in your imagination? " "You can tell them the story."  "You can write it down."  "You can draw a picture." We opened up more possibilities for symbolic representation of sound. 

As we survey various ways people have communicated their imagination to others.  One visualization that we experienced was remarkable.  It's a computer animation of part of Ferdinand Ries's 2nd symphony.  You must be 42" tall to watch this video.

First we watched the video with the music.  Next we turned off the music and let the images and movement conduct our voices.  See the attached video for one group's vocal response to the images. 

We then began to dig deeper to guess which came first, the image or the music.  Students said that clearly the music came first.  How did the orchestra know what the composer wanted them to play?  "He wrote the notes."  "And the conductor was showing the beat."  So the symbols and gesture came before the music?  How did he know which symbols to write down?   "Because he heard the music in his imagination!"