Page 1

The music of great composers has been inspired by books, plays, poetry, travel, nature, politics, friends, and even the neighbor’s dog! Discover how composers come up with fresh ideas as you learn all about musical INSPIRATION ! Performances for Young Audiences is made possible by

National Symphony Orchestra Young People’s Concert 2015-16 Michael Butterman,

conductor (October)

Conductor, TBA (April) Marissa Regni,

NSO violinist & host David and Alice Rubenstein are the Presenting Underwriters of the NSO.

THE birth Inspiration is what sparks a new idea.

Composers, like other creative people, need inspiration to write, or “compose” music. Sometimes, composers search inside themselves to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Other times, it’s a trip outside into the world, looking at nature, reading stories, going places, or thinking about current events. But once they have their idea, then what?

How Do Composers Write Music? Whether inspiration comes from observation, memories, or imagination, every composer uses the same basic tools to write music. One tool is pitch, which refers to the high notes, low notes, and all the notes in-between. Another is rhythm or the long and short notes. (Once you mix pitch and rhythm, you’ve written a melody.) Composers also decide on the tempo of the music, which can change fast to faster and slow to slower. Composers must choose which instruments will perform the music as well as the dynamics—whether the music’s volume is loud or quiet.

Young Love: Romeo and Juliet Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (pronounced SIR-gay Pro-KOFF-ee-ef) took inspiration from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet to write music for a full-length ballet. Shakespeare’s story is about a boy and girl who fall in love but are kept apart because their families hate each other. In the end, Romeo and Juliet die because of the family feud. With that drama in mind, Prokofiev’s music conveys the emotions of tender love, the elegance of rich people in Italy in centuries past, and the constant threat of violence.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)


of an Our Brains: Wired to Music Scientists now know there is a strong connection between our brain and how we listen to music. Interestingly, there is no one special place in the brain that analyzes music. Instead, when we listen to music, our brain sends messages to many different parts that handle separate tasks. For example:

Get the Picture

They’re Playing Our Song

Our mind’s eye sees pictures when we listen to music, like settings, nature scenes, loved ones, activities, or events.

Music triggers memories of people, places, or events in our lives.

Shake It Off The brain hears music and sends signals to sway, tap our feet, snap our fingers, clap our hands, bob our heads, or get up and dance.

Show Some Emotion Happy songs make us happy but sad songs bring us down— and then dance songs pump us up again! Music connects to emotions and moods.

Puzzle It Out The brain solves patterns and puzzles in music, trying to predict what might happen next.


the call Many composers are inspired by the natural world around them. They have written music capturing the drama of a sunrise, the stillness of the moon, a violent battle at sea, and even the depth of outer space. Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)

Wind and Rain: The Four Seasons


is wo h , la s

rst fears were

The Concerto and the Soloist

j us tifi ed ,

Sometimes composers choose to write music that features one instrument over all others. Such a composition is called a concerto, a work that features the talent and skill of a solo performer. The soloist at this concert is a member of the NSO. In a concerto, composers write the soloist’s part to be especially flashy and technically difficult to perform so that the soloist can really show-off his or her skills. 4

as t

he he a

Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was inspired by nature and his own poetry to write a series of violin concertos to express the four seasons. In the “Presto” (meaning super-fast) section of “Summer,” Vivaldi uses music to tell the story of a shepherd and his flock caught in a sudden summer rainstorm.


s ro

ar a

nd g

reat hailstone s beat down

of nature Down by the River: The Moldau Czech composer Bed˘rich Smetana (BEDrick SMET–ah-na) was inspired to write The Moldau by nature, memories of his personal adventures, and a deep love for his country. The work is named after an actual river that runs from a mountainside, through the Czech countryside, and into the city of Prague. In his music, Smetana tells the story of the river’s journey as it passes people and events Smetana happening along its banks. visited the Moldau Smetana even composes River several times in his music to describe white life. He wove those personal water rapids! memories and impressions into a lush melody that serves as a river theme. You will notice that the river theme starts gently but then its melody swells as the river widens.

L i s ten

i ng




t he n o p u


st y l oud

i’s Vivald m o r f s e – lin

ng i d an

th t on e n n so

rn . o c

rm sto g min


˘ Bedrich Smetana (1821–1884)

You will also notice that Smetana changes the music to depict different scenes on the riverbanks. Listen for Smetana’s use of French horns and trumpets sounding like hunters chasing a deer through the forest. Listen for the violins performing a polka, (a lively couple dance) at a wedding party. And listen for the flutes as Smetana imagines mermaids in the moonlight.

Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil or crayons. As you listen to Smetana’s music, draw a picture of his river. Start with the river and a tree or maybe a rolling hill, and You draw the pictures that the music suggests to you. don’t have Perhaps you see the hunters. Or you see the to be a great artist. farmer’s wedding, or the mermaids, or Draw stick-people even the rushing rapids. if you want. See if the music inspires you to see the same pictures that Smetana shared from his imagination and memory.

e co


a v ic e Many composers find inspiration by focusing on their memories and sense of values. Sometimes, these personal statements can make a composer’s music sound serious and dramatic. Other times, they might sound amusing, playful, and fun.

Good Friends: Enigma Variations British composer Edward Elgar was playing with a melody at the piano when his wife Alice told him she liked what she was hearing. To amuse her, Elgar played the same melody— but kept changing it so that each variation sounded like one of their neighbors and friends. This playful exercise turned into Elgar’s Enigma Variations and includes musical portraits of Elgar’s friends, his music student, and even a neighbor’s bulldog.

More than Initials or Names Elgar took inspiration from the people who lived around him. When we listen to his Enigma Variations now, we don’t necessarily think of the specific people Elgar had in mind. Instead, we reflect on how important it is to have friends and to connect with people in life.

Edward Elgar (1857–1934)

The Power of One: Symphony No. 10

Dmitri Shos tako vi (1906–1975) 6


Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (de-MEET-tree Shaw-sta-KO-vich) lived during a time when his country was controlled by a strict dictator named Josef Stalin who kept a tight control over the Russian people. Stalin was not interested in letting a creative artist or any other Russian speak his or her mind. Shostakovich tried to compose music that was true to his own ideas and values, but the situation was very dangerous for him. After Stalin died, Shostakovich chose to write music describing life under this horrible dictator. Shostakovich was inspired by the idea of freedom, justice, independence— and the power of an individual voice.

withi n The D-S-C-H motif A motif is a short series of notes that is repeated several times and expresses a single idea. Shostakovich was inspired to write a motif based on his own initials. In German musical notation, the “S” stands for an E-flat and the “H” stands for a B. Shostakovich’s musical motif for DSCH was set to music as D, E-flat, C, B. When audiences heard Shostakovich’s own initials in the music, they understood that the composer was declaring to the world that he had survived the cruel dictator’s government. For the composer, individuals were now free to express themselves again in Russia.

D E -flat C


Good Times: Cuban Overture American composer George Gershwin was known to work jazz rhythms and popular elements into his music. After a trip to Havana, Cuba, he was inspired to compose Cuban Overture, a work that included Cuban melodies, rhythms, and instruments. Even though Cuba was not his home, Gershwin was eager to introduce Cuban culture to the world.

Bang a Drum George Gershwin (1898–1937)


The bongos (BONG-gohs), gourd (gord), claves (KLAH-vez), and maracas (muh-RAH-kuhs) are musical instruments not typically found in an orchestra. Gershwin left specific instructions in his musical score to place these Latin American percussion instruments in front of the conductor so that the audience could get a good look at them. Bongos are a small set of drums, placed side by side. A gourd is a natural plant that makes the sound of a hollow thud when struck. Claves are a pair of short wooden sticks. A maraca is a hollow ball on a stick. The ball is filled with seeds or dried beans that rattle when shaken. Maracas usually come in pairs.


cl av e s

M a r ac a s 7

before you go Things to Know An orchestra is a group of musicians who play different instruments. There are four sections or “families” of instruments: strings (including violin, viola, cello, and bass); woodwinds (including flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon); brass (including trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba); and percussion (including timpani, snare drum, and xylophone).

David M. Rubenstein Chairman Deborah F. Rutter President Mario R. Rossero Vice President, Education

Christoph Eschenbach Music Director National Symphony Orchestra

The conductor is a person who leads the orchestra. Conductors use their right hand to tell the orchestra the tempo (speed) to play, and their left hand to indicate the dynamics (loud or soft). Some use a slender white stick called a baton (buh-TAHN) as they conduct. At the concert, watch how the conductor communicates with the musicians. After an orchestra is seated, the leader of the violins, known as the first violinist or concertmaster, bows to applause and takes his or her seat. This person then asks the principal oboist to sound an “A” note, to which the entire orchestra tunes. Watch for the first violinist at the beginning of the performance and greet his or her entrance with applause.

Practical Tips on Enjoying the Concert Your teacher may have shared some Listening Activities with you so that you could listen in advance to the music included in the program. Listen carefully to all the listening exercises. You will enjoy the concert more if you are already familiar with the music. Concert halls are large auditoriums. You might want to bring a sweater in case the air conditioning in the hall seems too cold. You will also want to use the restroom before the concert begins.

En joy the concer t! 8

For more about INSPIRATION!, visit:

NSO Young People’s Concerts are made possible in part by the generous support of The Clark Charitable Foundation; Mr. James V. Kimsey; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; Park Foundation, Inc.; U.S. Department of Education; and The Volgenau Foundation. Major support for educational programs at the Kennedy Center is provided by David and Alice Rubenstein through the Rubenstein Arts Access Program. Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts. /artsedge Cuesheets are produced by ARTSEDGE, an education program of the Kennedy Center. Learn more about Education at the Kennedy Center at /education The contents of this Cuesheet have been developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. You should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. © 2015 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Profile for Kennedy Center Education Digital Learning

NSO YPC: Inspiration! Student Cuesheet  

Inspiration is what sparks a new idea. The music of great composers has been inspired by books, plays, poetry, travel, nature, politics, fri...

NSO YPC: Inspiration! Student Cuesheet  

Inspiration is what sparks a new idea. The music of great composers has been inspired by books, plays, poetry, travel, nature, politics, fri...

Profile for artsedge