Next week Uptown Violins is excited to host Vacation Music School in Illinois! Our theme this year, Under the Sea, has been a favorite in previous years in both Kansas and Texas. Each day, we will learn about various sea creatures and some of the most beloved ocean-themed music.
On Monday, we will go for a deep dive into the abyssal zone of the ocean — over 3,000 feet below the surface! Home to dragon fish and occasionally the elusive giant squid, the creatures of this region live in perpetual darkness. Students will listen to Saint-Saens’ “Aquarium”— movement seven of The Carnival of the Animals, composed in 1886. This particular movement is made up of string quartet, two pianos, flute, and glass harmonica. Disney continued to promote its popularity, as film composer Alan Irwin Menken drew inspiration from it for the Prologue to Beauty and the Beast. He also wrote the music to The Little Mermaid whose song “Under the Sea” will be our theme music for the week.
Another beloved water-themed work is Handel’s Water Music. Composed in 1717, it is a wonderful example of the Baroque era. This large orchestral work is made up of three suites, including minuets (dances played with three beats per measure), hornpipes (fanfares) and bourrées (dances). King George I commissioned it for a performance on London’s iconic River Thames, festive with fireworks.
Tuesday we will travel to the twilight zone (middle layer) of the ocean, where we will discover whales and sharks. Students will encounter John Williams’ villainous two-note motif from the 1975 horror film Jaws. The music provides the perfect opportunity for young musicians to learn how to ramp up musical tension by beginning slowly, and gradually speeding up the tempo with an accelerando to the shark attack. Williams’ theme sounds similar to Dvorak’s fourth movement of his New World Symphony, composed in 1893 at the National Conservatory of Music of America. And who can teach shark day without singing the now epic Baby Shark, which has been made even more epic by James Cordon and even covered by Céline Dion.
On a less ominous note (no pun intended!), we will listen to the beautiful impressionistic sounds of Debussy’s La Mer. The French composer wrote the work between 1903-1905 in three movements. The first depicts dawn to midday on the sea, the second represents ocean waves, and the third shows the communication between wind and sea. Debussy drew his inspiration from the ocean itself, as well as paintings of the sea.
Wednesday we will explore the sunlight zone at the surface of the water, home to a vast majority of marine life, including dolphins. We at Uptown Violins love the popular jazz song “Beyond the Sea,” originally composed by Charles Trenet with French lyrics in 1946, in which Trenet depicted the beauty of la mer. Jack Lawrence adapted it for English-speaking audiences the same year, and Bobby Darin immortalized it in his 1959 version of the song.
Vacation Music School will wrap up on Thursday with a virtual trip to the beach where we will learn about turtles, alligators, and seagulls. Of course our study of the beach wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the sixties’ band “The Beach Boys.” Our twenty-first century students will listen to the classics “Surfin Safari” and “Surfin U.S.A.”
We can’t wait until next week to begin our musical adventure Under the Sea!