Lockdown Listening

We know how difficult a job homeschooling is, and how hard it is trying to get a little bit of creativity in between maths, phonics, science and all the rest. So we asked Animateur Rachel Leach to create this series of daily musical listening tasks for you to do at home – with your children, with your class or even by yourself.

We have ten in all, which we will post each weekday until half term, from Monday 1 to Friday 12 February, and these will stay up here for use after this as well.

They are designed to be done with the minimum of preparation and equipment - often just paper and pens - and can be achieved in under 10 minutes. The ideas can be adapted to suit any age and learning level, but are particularly suitable from age 7 and above. Each task has a short video and a text description, and is related to an LSO performance that you can find to watch for free on our YouTube channel.

So grab your headphones, your pens and other random household items (!) and lose yourself for a few minutes in music. And remember Rachel's mantra: There's No Wrong Answer!

Task 10: Ravel Bolero

Task 10: Ravel Bolero

Friday 12 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video or read on below.

Ravel’s Bolero features just three ideas that repeat over and over as the music grows from very soft to extremely loud. It is one of the most successful pieces of music ever written and made Ravel very, very rich!

For this task you need very large paper and art materials. Use the biggest paper you can find – lining paper or the back of wallpaper is the best option – and spread it out along the floor. Decide which end is the beginning and which is the end and mark ‘start’ and ‘finish’ on the paper lightly in pencil. Also have as many different colours as possible ready to hand

1. Ravel’s Bolero features three ingredients:

  • A repeating bassline (mostly played by cellos and basses)
  • A repeating rhythm (played throughout by the snare drum)
  • A wandering, snake-like tune

2. Listen to some of Bolero and try to spot the three ingredients. Decide on one colour for the bassline, a different colour for the repeating rhythm and a range of colours for the tune. The tune moves across the orchestra from solo flute, through the woodwind and onto some unusual combinations of instruments before being played by full orchestra, so you need a lot of different colour choices and combinations to represent it.

3. Listen to the first version of the tune played by the flute. Choose your colour carefully and as you listen draw the shape of the melody across your paper moving slowly from left to right. Do this without taking your pen off the page and allow your hand to just move up and down with the shape of the tune.

4. Next choose a colour to represent the clarinet – the next soloist. Listen onwards and add this colour on top as your draw its melody. You can place this above, below or next to the flute tune.

5. Keep listening and draw each version of the tune adding a new colour or combination of colours as the different instruments join.

6. Finally, listen one more time and draw the bassline (perhaps along the bottom of the page) and the repeating rhythm (across the middle maybe). Also pay particular attention to the ending. This is known as the Coda. It is different to the rest of the piece. Can you add this onto the end of your page, all the way to the right?

Task 9: Schumann Symphony No 1

Task 9: Schumann Symphony No 1

Thursday 11 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video or read on below.

The finale of Schumann’s Symphony No 1 describes ‘full spring’ so that’s the task, describe ‘full spring’!

1. Take one sheet of paper and write ‘SPRING’ in the middle of it.

2. Listen to the finale from Schumann’s Symphony No 1 and write down as many words as you can about spring. You can think of spring as the season and write down all the lovely things we see at that time of year – flowers, leaves on the trees, birds singing etc. Or you can think of spring as a new beginning, time to do things you haven’t been able to during winter or even a time to have new experiences.

3. Cover your page with your ideas making a big mind map.

4. Listen again and over the top of your words, draw small sketches of your ideas, filling the page with spring images (flowers, trees, birds). Make it bright and colourful, a real celebration of spring.

You might like to take a recording of this piece with you on your next walk. Listen on headphones as you walk around your local park or the streets around your home and see how many of the things on your list you can spot in real life. Or just walk, listen, look and breathe in the spring air.

Task 8: Ives The Unanswered Question

Task 8: Ives The Unanswered Question

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video below or read on.

The trumpet in Charles Ives’ piece asks the same question over and over again, but what is the question and how we will ever know the answer?

This task will work best if you can listen to the piece on headphones, in a darkened room…

1. Watch the introduction to Charles Ives’ piece from our Space concert. Try to work out what the question is. Maybe there’s a question that’s troubling you, something with no real answer. Perhaps something like ‘why am I worried?’ or ‘what’s going to happen?’ Decide on your unanswered question.

2. Get really comfy. Maybe turn the lights off in your room or close the curtains. If you can, play the music through headphones and get yourself into a really comfy position – lie on the floor or curl up in your favourite chair.

3. Now try to empty your mind completely. Slow down your breathing and relax.

4. Listen to Charles Ives’ piece in full. Whenever you hear the question (trumpet), allow your unanswered question to drift into your mind. When the flutes answer, shake your head and shake the question away.

When the music has finished, hopefully you’ll feel calm and relaxed. If your question is still bothering you, talk to someone about it or write it on a piece of paper and throw it away. If it doesn’t have an answer, there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Use Charles Ives’ wonderful piece whenever you feel troubled, perhaps one day it will provide the answer for you.

Task 7: Stravinsky The Soldier's Tale

Task 7: Stravinsky The Soldeir's Tale

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video or read on below.

Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a soldier encountering a stranger on the street and swapping his most prized possession, his violin, for the stranger’s most prized possession, a mysterious, magical book. What would you swap?

1. Listen to Airs by a Stream from The Soldier’s Tale, and as you listen decide what you would swap. It needs to be your most prized possession.

2. The stranger uses a rhyme to persuade the soldier make the swap. It goes like this:
Give me your fiddle
Swap it with me
I’ll give you this book for it
With this book, you’ll have wealth untold
It will bring you bank notes and gold

3. Re-write the verse so that it fits with your swap by filling in the blanks below. Can you make your words rhyme?
Give me your fiddle
Swap it with me
I’ll give you this__________for it
With this_____________you’ll have
It will bring you_____________and_____________

4. When you have completed your verse, try saying it in time with the music. The Stranger is very strange indeed and does a little dance. Can you do a little dance to the music as you say your words?

Why not try this again with another item and another rhyming verse. The music lasts for nearly three minutes so you have time to fit in several. You could even write a whole poem about your most prized possessions. As always, there’s no wrong answer!

Task 6: Poulenc Rondeau from Les biches

Task 6: Poulenc Rondeau from Les biches

Monday 8 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video or read on below.

Poulenc’s wonderfully strange piece was originally a ballet – so its time to dance!

1. Listen to the opening of Poulenc’s Rondeau from Les biches. After the mysterious slow chords there is a very short spiky idea started by the trumpets. Invent a short dance to fit the spiky rhythms or learn my version (in the video above).

2. This idea returns several times during the piece. Listen in full and see if you can spot it and dance along each time

3. Now invent short contrasting dances to fit with the music that comes in between. Can you match your dancing to the music? So, if the music is smooth, create smooth dance moves; if it is spiky, bounce around. Don’t miss the sad bit towards the end…

The more you listen and practise the better your dance will become! And remember, ‘there’s no wrong answer!’

Task 5: Walton Symphony No 1

Task 5: Walton Symphony No 1

Friday 5 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video, or read on below.

Walton is now remembered for writing glossy, sparkling music for film and royalty and this symphony is where it all started. Can you create artwork to match the beauty and star quality of this music?

1. What are you most interested in? Perhaps you want to be a racing driver when you grow up and drive very fast cars. Or maybe you’re into fashion and dream of wearing or designing Oscar-winning gowns. Perhaps you want to make the best cake anyone has ever tasted or design a futuristic building. Decide on your topic and draw the outline of it a sheet of paper.

2. Listen to the opening of the finale of Walton’s Symphony No 1. Hear how incredibly grand and opulent it is. If it were a dress it would be gold and covered in sparkles. If it were a car it would be the flashiest, fastest car you can possibly imagine.

3. Using Walton’s music as inspiration, transform your simple line-drawing into the most incredible picture. This is your chance to use your imagination and design your dream

Why not hold a launch party for your design? Dress up in your finest clothes, invite your family and present your design, perhaps framed or mounted on the wall? Your entrance music for this event should of course be Walton’s symphony, which also makes the most perfect catwalk music to strut to!

Task 4: Beethoven Symphony No 8

Task 4: Beethoven Symphony No 8

Thursday 4 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video, or read on below.

Beethoven liked to conduct his own music and being Beethoven, he did so in a very over-the-top style. Here’s how to conduct the Beethoven way!

1. Conductors use their baton, their face and their bodies to help show how they want to music to sound.

2. Beethoven’s music often had lots of contrasts within it. Often one piece would quickly shift from soft and gentle to loud and angry and then back again within seconds. When conducting, if Beethoven wanted quiet music he would crouch down low. If it was spiky he would perform spiky gestures with his hands. If it was smooth he would dance and sway. If it was loud he would make himself really big. If it was bouncy he would jump up and down. Even his face would match the music’s mood. Sometimes he would even grunt and shout along with it!

3. Listen to the fourth movement of his Eighth Symphony and have a go at conducting just like him! Be warned: there are lots of shifts and changes of mood. Can you keep up?

Task 3: Schnittke Concerto Grosso No 1

Task 3: Schnittke Concerto Grosso No 1

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video, or read on below.

Modern composers such as Alfred Schnittke and Sasha Siem often find new ways to use the instruments of the orchestra to create completely new and unique sounds.

1. Listen to the opening of Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No 1. It begins with solo piano but the piano sounds a bit different to usual. Schnittke has asked the player to place things on the strings inside to create his new and unique sound. He continues to use special techniques throughout his piece.

2. Your task is to find new and unique sounds in your home. Look around for ways to make musical sounds. Perhaps explore the kitchen or the bathroom. Do you have a forgotten musical instrument perhaps broken in a cupboard? Can you make it sound again? Or if you already play an instrument, can you make music with it in a new way?

3. When you have found your sound, create a short piece using it. Here are a few starting points –

  • Luxuriate in the sound. Your music doesn’t have to be complicated, just enjoy making your sound slowly and softly over and over.
  • Describe something. (the 2nd movement of Schnittke’s piece sounds like insects scurrying around for example)
  • Create a short rhythmic pattern by fitting words to a beat
  • Remember there is no wrong answer!

4. Finally come up with a good title for your piece and make a recording of it. Does it work well as a piece to listen to as well as to play?

For more inspiration check out Sasha Siem’s piece ‘Ojos del Cielo’ or ‘Sky Eyes’. She creates some amazing and totally unique sounds using the whole orchestra.

Task 2: Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé

Task 2: Prokofiev Lieutentant Kijé

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video, or read on below.

Prokofiev provided the music for the film of Lieutenant Kijé and it was so popular that he transformed the best bits into a suite for orchestra. It tells a wonderfully strange story.

For this task you need one sheet of paper divided into four sections.

1. Watch the introduction to Lieutenant Kijé. You will hear four short music motifs, one for each character in the story, as you hear them draw them – one in each section of your page. Here’s a quick list:

  • Army cadet outside on lookout
  • Busy secretary in the office
  • The Tsar! (king)
  • Lieutenant Kijé – mysterious!

2. Now listen to the full piece and add one sentence to each picture to describe what each character might say or think as the story unfolds.

3. Lieutenant Kijé didn’t exist, he was invented by a slip of the pen and then the poor secretary had to keep inventing adventures for him. So your next job is to write up all of his (or her!) adventures. You can make Lieutenant Kijé do whatever you like but make sure to write in your very best handwriting just in case the Tsar wants to see it!

If you don’t fancy drawing or writing today, try acting out the story. Just copy Rachel on screen!

Task 1: Dvořák Symphony No 9

Task 1: Dvořák Symphony No 9 'From the New World'

Monday 1 February 2021

Watch Rachel's video, or read on below.

Antonin Dvořák wrote this very famous melody whilst feeling very homesick in New York City. It is played on an instrument called the cor anglais and is just a small part of his Ninth Symphony which is called ‘From the New World’

1. Listen to Dvořák’s melody. As you listen imagine you are far away from home. Imagine you are in a place very different to your home and you are feeling homesick.

2. Write a letter back home from this imaginary place. Like any good letter, it should include the following:

  • The name of the person you are writing to (‘Dear mum…’)
  • Descriptions of the place you are visiting and the things you have seen
  • A list of things you miss about home and why
  • How you are feeling
  • A proper goodbye (‘lots of love from…’)

As you write, keep Dvořák’s music playing the background for extra inspiration.

Perhaps there is someone in real life that you are missing; someone you haven’t been able to see in person for a while. Now that you are so good at writing letters, why not write to them? Use Dvořák’s music to get you in the right mood and the template above to help shape your letter. When you’ve finished, pop it in an envelope and post it to them – everyone loves getting a letter!


Show us your creations!

We would love to see what you create! You can share your work with us on social media using the hashtag #lockdownlistening.


More from Rachel

You can find more of these lockdown listening tasks on Rachel's own website, and follow her on Twitter.
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All Lockdown Listening tasks

You can watch all of Rachel's tasks on our YouTube playlist.
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