Lesson Plan for September 11
Objectives: Students will analyze excerpts from John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls and
describe the methods used to pay tribute to the September 11, 2001 victims.
Standards: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
Understanding music in relation to history and culture
Materials: Sound clips from On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams (Clip #1; Clip #2)
Journal or notebook
Overhead projector or board with hidden writing
Warm-up activity: Ask the students to think of songs from their own musical background about sad or tragic events (examples might be “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, or “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning”)” by Alan Jackson. What makes these songs sad songs?
1. Explain to students that they will be listening to parts of a piece by composer John Adams that was written about the victims of the September 11 attacks. Inform them that New York’s Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the world’s great orchestras whose city had been shattered by the attacks, specifically requested this composer to create this work. Discuss what such a piece might sound like (what instruments might be used, what the lyrics might describe, etc). Tell the students that they will listen to both samples three times.
2. Play Clip #1 for the students. Have students listen to the excerpt once without doing any writing, just listening. When played the second time, ask students to informally write what they hear (voices saying names, background choir, clashes of tone, etc). The third time through, uncover the first two questions on the board or overhead. Ask students to reflect on what they have just written and what they hear in order to write answers to the following two questions:
a. Why do you think the words are spoken instead of sung?
b. Why are the words performed by soloists?
3. Play Clip #2 for the students. Again, have students listen carefully to the piece once through without any writing, and once through while writing what they hear in the excerpt. When played the third time through, have the students answer these two questions:
a. How does the chorus musically indicate the mood of the piece?
b. What instruments do you hear, and what could they signify?
4. Discuss the answers to each question in class. Possible answers may include dissonance/clashing in the vocal lines indicating horror or grief, bells tolling as if in a funeral, strings representing tears, or other interpretations. Inform students of the title, and by breaking down the word, define “transmigration” (the definition is “to migrate to another place, to cause to go from one state of existence or place to another”). Questions for discussion may include the following: How does the title reflect the events of September 11th? What else might Adams have done to reflect the tragedy? What is Adams trying to say about the attacks and their aftermath? Do you agree with his interpretation?
Assessment: Students will successfully provide thoughtful analysis and descriptions on how
different aspects of the work reflect the September 11th attacks.