Tchaikovsky Discovers America
Based on the original work
by Douglas Cowling
Teacher’s Notes written
by Susan Hammond
To Sarah and Katie,
who inspired this series
Published by The Children’s Group Inc.
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Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1W 3W9
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© Classical Kids 1993 Tchaikovsky Discovers America, Original edition
© Classical Kids 1998 Tchaikovsky Discovers America, Revised edition
© Classical Kids 2008 Tchaikovsky Discovers America, Revised edition
Letter to Teachers..................................................................................................................3
How This Book Is Organized............................................................................................ 4
Scene 1: The Escape............................................................................................................ 8
Piano Concerto No. 1, Mvt 1 • Danse Napolitaine (Swan Lake) • Trepak (The Nutcracker) • “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” • “Turkey in the Straw” • Waltz (String
Scene 2: Travel in Many Lands....................................................................................... 16
Tea (The Nutcracker) • Overture (The Nutcracker) • Coffee (The Nutcracker) • Chocolate (The Nutcracker) • Danse des Cygnes (Swan Lake) • 1812 Overture
Scene 3: Ragtime and Swan Lake...................................................................................21
Silver (Sleeping Beauty) • Overture to Act II (Swan Lake)
Scene 4: Father Arrives and Sleeping Beauty.............................................................26
“The Maiden’s Chorus” (Eugene Onegin) • Coda (The Nutcracker) • Ragtime
• Marche Slav • Violente (Sleeping Beauty) • Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
(The Nutcracker) • Le Sommeil and Panorama (Sleeping Beauty)
Scene 5: Conclusion..........................................................................................................34
“Long, Long Ago” • “The Maiden’s Chorus” (Eugene Onegin) • Waltz (Swan Lake)
• “Amazing Grace” • Serenade for Strings, Mvt 1 • Serenade for Strings, Finale
• 1812 Overture, Finale
Classical Kids and the Integrated Curriculum..............................................................41
Themes • Suggested Lesson Plan • Worksheet
Classical Kids Awards and Honors................................................................................44
Letter to Teachers
Many classical music fans claim that Tchaikovsky was their first love. Is it his broad sweeping
waltzes that make us want to dance? His lonely aching melodies that make us want to cry? Or his
thunderous fortissimos that make us want to reach for the limitless skies? There is something fundamentally emotional in every note Tchaikovsky wrote.
And he wrote so many notes! While his symphonies run well over 45 minutes, his ballets call for
almost four hours of continuous music. His compositions challenge the resources of even the largest orchestras and yet, undaunted, they perform his music almost as often as Beethoven’s.
Tchaikovsky was almost as prolific with words as with notes. His 10 diaries and 5,000 letters give
us keen insights into the composer’s world. His music and words open up for us the fairy-tale
world of ballet and the Great Bear of Mother Russia itself.
In 1891, Tchaikovsky came to New York City to open Carnegie Hall. His diaries eloquently capture
that optimistic period of American history, the 1890s. We meet its people, its beliefs and its music:
spirituals, ragtime, popular songs and the beginnings of Broadway. When asked what he thought
of Americans, the composer wrote:
“I am ten times better known here than in Russia. Of all the people I have met, [the Americans] are the most generous and open-hearted.”
In Tchaikovsky Discovers America, we explore this fascinating era, filled with possibilities for creative
classroom activities. Whether you have an extensive background in music or none at all, in these
Teacher’s Notes you will find more than 70 suggestions ranging broadly across the integrated curriculum: personal biography, social history, geography, science, creative writing, drama, dance, art
and music. Here, your library research is collected in one place, along with many classroom activity ideas.
Classical Kids recordings begin with careful research into the music and life of the featured composer. Then we introduce a fictional child into the drama so young listeners have a point of entry
into the story. This emotional involvement is primary for allowing them to empathize with the
composer — where the heart goes the mind will follow.
Many teachers have concerns about using audio productions in the classroom where the “fidget
factor” cannot be tamed by “things to look at.” Yet listening to recordings in class, like reading
aloud, can encourage children to create whole worlds in their imaginations. This creative listening
is one of childhood’s greatest gifts, and is an essential skill for later life.
Let us give our children a window on earlier times, accompanied by glorious music, enticing
drama and some profound themes.
How This Book Is Organized
Classical Kids recordings have been used in K–8 classes, but are most suitable for Grades K to 6. We
have ranked the activities according to grade level with the symbols below. The icon applies to all
the activities in the section, unless otherwise indicated. In the Exploring the Music sections, the
icon also includes a number indicating the appropriate National Standard for Arts Education (see
Presenting the Recording
This recording can be presented in its entirety (approximately 42 minutes), in two halves or in the
five scenes outlined here. Each scene is identified in terms of CD track numbers and beginning
and ending dialogue. You will find in these Teacher’s Notes:
Getting ready: Questions and activities for use before the recording
Scene-by-scene suggestions: For use during the recording
•Music used in the scene
•Interesting background facts
•Discussion and activity suggestions
•Suggestions for exploring the music
Follow-up: Questions and activities for use after the recording
•Charts: Themes and skills, and a 10-day lesson plan
Music in the Integrated Curriculum
Although Classical Kids recordings can be enjoyed as musical stories, our aim is to move children
from being passive listeners to active participants: to engage their imaginations, to offer new skills
and knowledge, to stimulate higher-order thinking skills and, finally, to give every teacher the
tools to build a rich learning environment. These Teacher’s Notes present more than 70 facts and
thought-provoking questions to move beyond music into an integrated curriculum of social studies, creative writing, math, sciences and the other arts.
Our intent is to provide both specialists and general classroom teachers with engaging materials
that expand their students’ knowledge of music and times past. Instead of presenting a basal text
of sequential musical skills, Classical Kids urges teachers and their students to “play with” musical concepts, to develop an interpretive vocabulary, to sing or play classical melodies on simple
classroom instruments, to write lyrics, even to venture into composition. Children find it difficult
to work in a vacuum, so let these recordings serve as a model, captivating young listeners with a
moving story and then motivating them to acquire new facts and skills. Put these recordings in
your classroom library for repeated listening.
Classical Kids and Children with Special Needs
Classical Kids recordings do not talk down to children. Our challenge here has been to design
concrete activities that are sufficiently broadly based to inspire and involve children with special
Teachers of children with learning disabilities often use the activities designed for younger
classes, or allow more time for tasks: retell the story, dance, draw, sing or clap. Those teaching children with physical disabilities concentrate on singing, storyboarding, drawing or discussing events
from the past. Teachers of children who are deaf or hard of hearing can tell the compelling story of
Beethoven’s triumph over deafness in Beethoven Lives Upstairs.
ESL students benefit from recordings that use well-spoken English to promote oral comprehension. Singing and writing lyrics are also wonderful ways to learn a second language. Classical Kids
materials are available in other languages. Illustrated books of Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Tchaikovsky Discovers America are available in Spanish, and recordings of Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery are available in French.
The Teacher’s Notes in this series encourage gifted students to write variations, study rondo
structure, venture into European history and write time-travel stories with shifting points of view.
To all students, we encourage you to ask: “Who would want to do the possible all your life? The
impossible — that’s exciting!”
Assessment in the arts is always difficult, often subjective, yet ultimately essential to spur excellence. Depending on what you hope to achieve with your arts program, you can test students
individually or in groups, orally or on paper, for skills or understandings. These Notes encourage
children to form their own questions, define tasks, discover research strategies, justify interpretations and then create a final product. Each of these stages can be assessed by the teacher. A sample
student worksheet is included at the end of this book.
Observe and assess your students not only on final results but also on the care taken with the
process. We encourage specialists to move beyond traditional music skills into cultural history,
creative writing, research projects, timelines, storyboards, set designs, murals or dance. Conversely,
general classroom teachers are urged to try musical activities not necessarily based on playing proficiency. These listening and interpretive skills are important for music and for life in general.
Exploring the Music with Classical Kids
The suggested activities in the Exploring the Music sections are coded by number to reflect how
they fulfill the U.S. National Standards for Arts Education.
1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music. Classical Kids believes that singing is
primary for all music-making. The series offers more than 40 classical songs written out, and
students are encouraged to write their own lyrics to well-known orchestral pieces and sing
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire. These Teacher’s Notes offer
more than 50 pieces written out for recorders, glockenspiels, piano or guitar.
3. Improvising melodies, variations and accompaniments. The series encourages actively “playing with” musical elements, making answering phrases in ABA form, creating melodies
based on chords and scales, and improvising variations or canons.
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines. Be it creating “music from
Neptune,” writing ragtime, superimposing melodies, or composing music over which
to read script, we seek to fire a child’s musical imagination.
5. Reading and notating music. All the written-out pieces can be photocopied for classroom
reading. Some titles include step-by-step descriptions for learning to read notation.
6. Listening to, analyzing and describing music. Musical terminology, instrumentation and
form are explained. We encourage students to graph the “musical spine” of scenes in
terms of tempo, instrumentation and mood. Classical Kids is particularly interested
in helping students develop a descriptive vocabulary to interpret and listen to music
7. Evaluating music and music performances. All the music on the recordings has been
expressly recorded to reflect images in the script. This provides an opportunity to talk
about the performances and compare them to other recordings of the same piece.
8. Understanding relationships between music and the other arts as well as disciplines outside
the arts. Classical Kids offers something unique for the last two criteria (8 and 9). The
Discussion and Activities sections link music to other arts and subjects.
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture. In the Background section of every
scene, the music is set in its historical context. You will find a wealth of anecdotal facts
and vivid descriptions of the times, without having to go to a library for outside sources.
(Adapted from National Standards for Arts Education published by Music Educators National Conference. Copyright
1994. Reproduced with permission. The complete National Standards and additional materials related to the standards
are available from Music Educators National Conference, www.menc.org, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 22091.)
Synopsis of the Story
This recording is a journey. Moving from the excitement of Tchaikovsky’s arrival by ship
into New York Harbor, by train to Niagara Falls and back to New York City, it faithfully
chronicles the composer’s trip to America in 1891. There he meets a young Russian immigrant family and their two children. As they travel up the Hudson River, Tchaikovsky
entertains the children with stories of Russia and his great ballets. They in turn introduce
the composer to the wonders of America — its inventions, its people, its music. Finally,
before the majesty of Niagara Falls, both Tchaikovsky and the family come to some important realizations about overcoming fears and living in a new land. Tchaikovsky returns to
conduct his concert and the family watch him sail back to his homeland.
Things to Talk About Before the Recording
•Has anyone in your class attended a live performance of The Nutcracker ballet? Swan
Lake? Sleeping Beauty? What were their impressions? Does anyone know who wrote the
•Play an excerpt from The Nutcracker or the 1812 Overture. How many of your students
recognize it? Many people do not realize that, next to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky is the most
often performed composer in America!
•Showing pictures before listening to a CD can help your students build images in their
heads while they listen. Bring in some illustrated books about America at the turn of the
century and about Tchaikovsky’s Russian ballets.
•This is a story of the Old World meeting the New World. Can your class name other
movies or books in which the present meets the future or the past? What happens?
•The information on this recording and in these Teacher’s Notes is drawn from the letters,
diaries and newspaper reports of the time. Ask your students whether they write regularly
to friends, pen pals or relatives. Do they prefer to use e-mail or regular mail? Does anyone keep a diary?
•On hearing Classical Kids recordings, many people ask what is true and what is fictional.
Explain to your class that only the family is fictional. The details about Tchaikovsky’s life
and ballets are true.
•Tease your students with this classic joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer:
“Practice, practice, practice!”
Scene 1: The Escape
Length of Scene: 5:15
CD Tracks 1–3
Begins: “I saw his ship sail into New York harbor.”
Ends: “Well, thank you.”
Father describes Tchaikovsky’s arrival in America, as he sails past the Statue of Liberty into
New York Harbor. When the composer storms out of a rehearsal that is not going well,
his hostess, Mrs. Petroff, and her two children suggest a trip to Niagara Falls. After a chase
to Grand Central Station, Mother is left behind. Jenny and Alexander set off alone with
Tchaikovsky. Onboard, we hear American music: spirituals, folk songs and an arranged
waltz by Tchaikovsky.
•Piano Concerto No. 1, Mvt 1
•Danse Napolitaine (Swan Lake)
•Trepak (The Nutcracker)
•“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
•“Turkey in the Straw”
•Waltz (String Serenade)
The First Modern Composer
Although many consider Tchaikovsky another “ye olde” composer, he was actually an early
example of the modern guest conductor. Keep in mind that:
Through his agent, Tchaikovsky was summoned by telegraph, to come on an iron ship
across the Atlantic Ocean to America where, pursued constantly by reporters, he guest-conducted a fine orchestra, in Carnegie Hall, for a concert that was reviewed by newspapers such
as the New York Herald.
These diary entries paint a vivid picture of Tchaikovsky’s visit to America as described in
his own words:
We can only imagine Tchaikovsky’s amazement at crossing the ocean to discover:
Tchaikovsky was both terrified and exhilarated by his trans-Atlantic crossing. He wrote:
“I am ten times better known here than
in Russia. Of all the people I have met,
[the Americans] are the most generous and
“The ship is superb. A veritable floating
palace... The ship moves so quietly that one
can hardly believe one is on the water. Last
night, the weather got worse and worse.
Everything creaked and groaned. One
minute we were tossed up to the clouds, the
next we sank into the depths. The horrible
shocks each time the screw lifted out of
the water could not be silenced... It was
impossible to go on deck, for the wind almost
blew one overboard.”
Tchaikovsky approaches New York City
with a child-like delight, writing:
“I went for a stroll down Broadway. An
extraordinary street! Houses of one and two
stories alternate with nine-storied buildings.
The houses downtown are simply colossal;
I cannot understand how anyone can live on
the 13th floor. The view was quite splendid,
but I felt quite giddy when I looked down
on Broadway... Every morning, people rush
east to a place called ‘Downtown,’ then rush
home again at night... [The hotels here have]
lavatories with basins, bath and washstand.
Hot and cold running water. Lighting by
electricity or gas — candles are never used
— and the constant rumble of the elevator
going up and down at incredible speed.”
Newspaper descriptions of the concert give
us a vivid sense of high society in 1891:
“All was abustle outside the big temple of
music before the festival began. Carriage after
carriage rolled up to the broad entrance and
deposited its precious freight... At one time
there was a line of carriages standing from the
entrance to the hall a full quarter of a mile
away. Long before the doors opened the street
in front of the hall was crowded with people
who wanted to enter... ladies, whose bonnets
must have cost more than the average laborer
receives a week for his labor, stood in line
waiting for the doors to open... The audience
rose and lifted up its thousand voices to the
tune of ‘America’.” —New York Herald
During rehearsal, Tchaikovsky complained:
“Several workmen were hammering,
shouting, and running hither and thither...
I stopped the Pianoforte Concerto at the first
movement, as the parts were in confusion
and the musicians exhausted.”
In the Railway Age, rivers of steel were
laid around the world. Tchaikovsky loved
“I entered the drawing room car. The easy
chairs are placed close to one another, in
such a way that it is possible to turn in all
directions. The windows are large and the
view on both sides is completely unobstructed.
Next was the dining car and the smoking
car with buffet (with desks for writing letters
and telegrams). The cars are much more
luxurious than ours. There are numerous
compartments in which are washstands
with hot and cold water, towels (regarding
towels, there is an amazing supply here in
general), cakes of soap, brushes, etc. There is
a bath and a barber shop. As there are almost
no stops, it is all the more tiresome.”
Discussion and Activities
Of Trains and Bicycles
Like many children, Tchaikovsky was fascinated by trains. Explore some of these ideas with
your class as follows:
•Listen again to this scene. What sound effects can you identify? [Answers: crashes, hammering, horse whinny, train sounds.] Notice that all the train sound effects on this
recording are from the period.
•How many songs about trains can you name (e.g., “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”)?
•Imitate a train approaching, stopping, then passing by. Be creative with chug-a-chugs,
wailing whistles and screaming brakes.
Tchaikovsky would have enjoyed the 1891 Broadway hit A Bicycle Built for Two. He loved
all inventions and even rode a tricycle in Russia. Ask your students:
•Did you know that in the 1860s people had to have a license to ride a bicycle? What are
the rules about riding bicycles where you live?
•How many types of bicycles can you name? [Suggestions: tricycles, mountain bikes, etc.]
What is your favorite? At what age did you learn to ride a bicycle?
Introducing the Family
Questions to ask:
•Why is Alex so excited that his mother missed the train? [Answer: an adventure alone.]
•What differences do you sense between the sister and brother? [Answer: Jenny is older, more
serious, dreamy, responsible; Alex is irrepressible, adventurous, American in outlook.]
•Has anyone traveled as an unaccompanied minor? Did you enjoy it? What are the rules
of unaccompanied travel?
•Has anyone ever missed a bus, train or airplane? What happened?
Exploring the Music
The Best-Loved Piano Concerto of All Time
Many students will recognize the opening piece on this recording: the Piano Concerto
No. 1. Read aloud Tchaikovsky’s painful description of first showing it to his teacher:
“It was Christmas Eve of 1874. We were invited to a Christmas tree that evening... [but it
was] suggested that we go first to one of the classrooms at the Conservatory beforehand.
And so we did.
“I played the first movement (for my teacher)... Not a word, not a remark. If you only
knew how disappointing, how unbearable it is when a man offers his friend a dish of his work
and the other eats and remains silent! I armed myself with patience and played it right to
the end. Again silence. I stood up and said: ‘Well?’
“Then from the lips of N.G.R. poured a torrent of words, first quiet, then more and
more in the tone of Jupiter, Lord of the Thunderbolts. It appeared that my concerto was
worthless, impossible to play; that these ideas had been used before, and were clumsy
and awkward beyond the possibility of correction. As a composition it was poor; I had
stolen this from one source and that from another. There were only two or three pages
that could be salvaged, and the rest must be thrown away, or completely altered! An
outsider dropping into the room would have thought me a madman, without talent,
ignorant, a worthless scribbler who had come to trouble a great man with his rubbish.
“Speechless with agitation and fury, I walked out of the room without a word and
went upstairs. Rubinstein appeared soon afterwards... He told me that if I would alter it
according to his wishes by a certain date, he would do me the honor of performing it at
“‘I will not alter a single note!’ I replied. ‘I will print it exactly as it is!’ And so I did.”
All this for one of the greatest piano concerti ever written!
•Has anyone in your class experienced a huge disappointment like this?
Two Famous Opening Motifs
Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto begins with four powerful notes in the horns. In many
ways, it is similar to the equally famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (see Classical Kids recording Beethoven Lives Upstairs). These are called “masculine motifs” —powerful and short.
•Play only the first four notes of both Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (here in the key of D).
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5
Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1
•Ask students how these are similar. [Answer: The rhythm is short-short-short-long.] How
are they different? [Answer: Tchaikovsky’s is more broad in tempo and is in only brass.]
•If Beethoven’s motif could be sung to the words “Beethoven Lives,” what words can students suggest for Tchaikovsky’s opening horn motif? [Suggestion: “Come and be free!”]
•Can anyone think of an image to fit the violin theme that follows the opening motif?
[Suggestion: ocean waves rolling in.]
Napolitaine and Trepak
There is a wonderful arched quality to this piece from Swan Lake. Much of its elegance
comes from the sonority of the solo “piston” trumpet. At the time Tchaikovsky was writing, the valveless piston was competing with the modern valved trumpet.
•Does anyone in your class know a classical or jazz trumpeter who can come into the
class and demonstrate this versatile instrument?
•Trepak from The Nutcracker is one of the most popular pieces of all time. Its infectious
Russian dance rhythm suggests a wild chase. Here are some suggestions:
–Gallop around the floor (sure to reduce younger children to giggles of delight).
–Many ballet schools use the Trepak for cross-floor exercises. Divide the class into two
or four groups positioned in the corners of a square room, with students lined up like
in a ballet class. Create a step pattern or gallop diagonally across the room, starting
with the strongly accented beat of each new phrase.
–Try to think of some appropriate snatches of dialogue to say at the crossing in the
center of the square. This is similar to the game of guessing what someone shouts just
as they jump into a swimming pool. [Suggestion: “I love chocolate, I love tea, I love
dandelions and you love me!”]
Music of the New World: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
The train takes us on a musical ride through America. Tchaikovsky hears a group of exslaves who, freed only 25 years earlier, were confined to the end cars.
•Tell students the history of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”:
“Swing Low” was first published in 1871 by the Jubilee Singers. This choir has a remarkable history. It was formed to raise money for Fisk University, one of the first black colleges in the United States. From 1871–1887, the Jubilee Singers traveled across the United
States and Europe, introducing the world to black music and laying the groundwork for
blues and jazz. Its energetic director searched out and printed many of the spirituals that
had previously been passed on by memory. This choir discovered and published many
wonderful songs, including “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Deep River” and
The words to “Swing Low” are explained below:
According to legend, when a chief in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was dying, he was put
in a great canoe with food and symbols of his rank. The canoe was then launched into
the river, heading toward the mist of Victoria Falls. As all the members of the tribe stood
on shore to sing their farewell chant, the king allegedly rose from his canoe and entered
a chariot that descended from the mists and took him up into the skies.
•Sing this song with your class as written here. If you have Orff instruments, create an introduction and bass line on glockenspiels. Consider adding a lazy drum and vocal chant
to suggest the legend above.
•Draw the story of “Swing Low.” Find other spirituals to sing and illustrate, and then put
them in a heritage book.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Arr. Susan Hammond
Popular Songs and the Beginnings of Broadway
There are many books full of the folksy, optimistic songs from the “Gay Nineties”: “Clementine,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,”
“The Red River Valley” and “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay.”
•How many more titles can your class suggest? Sing them.
In 1891, Broadway was in its infancy. New York celebrated itself with songs such as
“The Sidewalks of New York” (1891) and “East Side, West Side” (1894). The all-time hit for
1891 was “A Bicycle Built for Two” (also known as “Daisy, Daisy”). These songs are full of
bouncing good humor, energy and sentimentality.
•Plan a cabaret concert of Broadway and popular songs from the 1890s.
Like Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky is famous for his waltzes. Although written for full
orchestra, they are effective in simple piano arrangements.
•Teach your class to dance the waltz. Talk about ballroom dancing.
•Play with conducting techniques. Slow waltzes can be conducted in 3/4 time as shown
on the left. Faster waltzes are usually conducted with a simple down-up motion so that
the down-stroke indicates the strong first beat of each bar. It is shown on the right.
Waltz (String Serenade)
Scene 2: Travel in Many Lands
Length of Scene: 4:30
CD Tracks 4–7
Begins: “Good morning, sir... Please take a table here.”
Ends: “Why do people have to get so stuck in the old ways?”
The maitre d’ takes their order. Tchaikovsky and the children talk of Coca-Cola and Russian tea. Tchaikovsky encourages his young listeners to hear music in a cup of tea. He tells
a story about coffee and the Arabian nights. As Chocolate ends, the reporters reappear. The
children and Tchaikovsky hide. Tchaikovsky tells them about life in Russia.
•Tea (The Nutcracker)
•Overture (The Nutcracker)
•Coffee (The Nutcracker)
•Chocolate (The Nutcracker)
•Danse des Cygnes (Swan Lake)
Writing The Nutcracker
While composing The Nutcracker in his last year, Tchaikovsky complained of “a decline in
my inventive powers.” In addition, his long-time collaborator, Marius Petipa, fell ill during its production. At the premiere on December 17, 1892, audiences disliked its German
story, its extensive use of child rather than adult dancers and the appearance of the Sugar
Plum Fairy (whom Tchaikovsky’s brother described as ugly).
Nonetheless, the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s music is unsurpassed. The most famous
movements were collected into a Concert Suite (Op. 71). Its premiere was greeted with
calls to repeat five of its six sections. This suite is a great addition to any classroom library.
During the 1812 Overture, we learn about Tchaikovsky’s life in Russia. Here are some additional details to share with your class:
•Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in the province of Viatka, where his father was a
mining engineer. He had an older brother, Nikolai, and twin brothers 10 years younger
than him. After the early death of his mother, Peter Ilyich virtually raised the twins, who
in turn, grew up to manage his musical affairs.
•Tchaikovsky also had a sister two years younger than him. He adored Sasha, and often
visited her at her riverside dacha (country house) near Kiev. On his way to America,
Tchaikovsky read in a Paris newspaper that his sister had died and almost canceled the trip.
•Tchaikovsky’s affectionate nature and happy childhood were profoundly shaken by two
traumatic childhood experiences.
–First, his mother died when he was only 11 years old. She was very musical and used to
sing Mozart to him as a child. Tchaikovsky watched her die a horrible death of cholera,
the disease that was to take his own life on November 6, 1893.
–A second loss occurred when the family moved to St. Petersburg and had to leave behind
his beloved governess, Fanny. She described Tchaikovsky’s sensitive temperament:
“As a young child, Peter Ilyich put his hand right through a windowpane drumming
out a piece of music. I found him upstairs crying, ‘The music... It won’t let me sleep.
It’s here in my head. It won’t leave me alone!’”
Discussion and Activities
Activities on The Nutcracker
•Both Mozart and Tchaikovsky composed music based on a child’s fairy tale during their
final year. Mozart, whom Tchaikovsky called “the supreme God of music,” had written
The Magic Flute exactly a hundred years earlier in 1791. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is
based on Hoffman’s story called The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice. Ask your class
to tell the story of The Nutcracker as they might have seen it. Or get out a book and tell
The Stahlbaums are decorating their Christmas tree in the drawing room. Godfather
Drosselmeyer arrives, serious and sinister. He gives the children toys, including a Nutcracker. In the quarrel between Clara and Fritz, the Nutcracker is broken. Clara puts it in
her doll’s cradle. After everyone has gone to bed, Clara goes down to see her Nutcracker.
All the toys have come to life and are battling the King of Mice. Clara hurls her slipper
at the King of Mice and kills him. The Nutcracker turns into a prince who invites her to
visit his kingdom.
Clara and the Nutcracker Prince fly over a wintry forest to the Kingdom of Sweets
where the Sugar Plum Fairy is Queen. There is a splendid banquet featuring many of
Tchaikovsky’s most familiar melodies: Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Trepak, and the Dance of
the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The story of The Nutcracker is great material for a creative writing class. Suggest that your
•Change the point of view by rewriting the story from the Nutcracker’s perspective.
•Change the ending by writing a sequel to the present story.
•Write a whole new story entitled “In the Land of Sweets.”
Vocabulary and Associative Thinking with The Nutcracker
•Music can be a wonderful stimulant for lateral, associative thinking. Make a chart like
the one on the next page to fill in with your class. (These are only sample answers.)
slink low to ground
Dancing The Nutcracker
•Almost every ballerina begins her dancing career in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Does
anyone in the class take ballet lessons? Can they demonstrate some of the steps, positions or even choreography of The Nutcracker?
•Watch a video of The Nutcracker and study some of the dance ideas. Even kindergarten
classes have made wonderful impressions, however brief, of this classic ballet. Write a
simple script, appoint one or two narrators and make ballet costumes from your dressup box.
The Nutcracker is a lovely visual ballet to work with in art class. Suggest that your students:
•Bring in a wooden nutcracker as a model. Make nutcrackers with empty paper towel rolls
decorated with paper.
•Build a scene in which to set the nutcrackers, complete with other Christmas tree decorations, and even a little ballerina.
•Does anyone in your class have dolls or toys from other countries? These can be incorporated into the nutcracker scene. Traditional Russian stacking dolls are always a welcome addition.
A Musical Map of the World
•Each of the foods in the Kingdom of Sweets is associated with delicacies from around
the world. As an exercise in geography, explore the globe by making a musical map of
The Nutcracker: Tea (China), Coffee (Arabia), Chocolate (Spain), Trepak (Russia) and the
Sugar Plum (France).
•Trace Tchaikovsky’s 1891 trip to America: from St. Petersburg, to Berlin, to Paris, to Le
Havre, to New York, to Niagara Falls, to Baltimore, to Washington, to Philadelphia, to
New York and back to Russia.
Attending The Nutcracker
•Try to attend this Christmas classic with your students.
Media Attention and Creativity
Although Tchaikovsky greatly appreciated his American reception, he often complained
about the reporters. “They press me to play. I refuse, but apparently it will never end until
I have played something on the wretched piano...”
Discuss the price of fame with your class. Ask your class:
•Can you think of rock stars or public figures who are relentlessly pursued by their fans?
•Do you think we ask too much of our heroes in terms of access to their private lives?
•Have you read whether media attention interrupts their work? Is it worth the cost?
•“Inspiration is an invited guest who comes only to those who are prepared.” Ask your class what
they think this quotation from Tchaikovsky could mean. As you discuss it, keep in mind
that Tchaikovsky had none of Mozart’s reported ease of composition. Like Beethoven
who struggled with his musical ideas, Tchaikovsky sometimes took two weeks to think of
a single theme.
Exploring the Music
Tchaikovsky sketched out the first act of The Nutcracker before leaving Russia and finished
its orchestration a year later in March 1892. The script tries to illustrate the compositional
process by treating excerpts from The Nutcracker as “works in progress.”
•Ask your class what each of the three movements here represent in terms of stimulating
the imagination. Answers:
–A composer can get his ideas from everyday life (Tea).
–A composer can orchestrate it to catch the warmth of other senses such as smell (Coffee).
–A composer can bring alive the exotic smells and tastes from another land (Chocolate).
•The Nutcracker is famous for its orchestration. Can anyone identify the solo instruments
in these movements? Answers:
–Tea (piccolo, two flutes),
–Chocolate (trumpet and castanets).
Introducing the 1812 Overture
The 1812 Overture was written in 1880 to commemorate the victory of Russia over Napoleon at the end of this recording, but here are some earlier passages.
Although the 1812 Overture is usually recorded with instruments only, the opening
“Hymn” and the “Children’s Folksong” are sometimes sung. The “Hymn” represents a
prayer by the Russian people on the eve of the Napoleonic invasion. It was recorded here
with a full seven seconds of reverberation, similar to that found in St. Paul’s Cathedral in
London and the Grand Canyon.
•Sing “The Children’s Folksong,” drawn from the middle of the 1812 Overture. It adds a
sweet innocence to this militaristic piece.
from 1812 Overture
Arr. Susan Hammond
•Like Schubert, Tchaikovsky loved to contrast the major and minor tonalities. Point out
how the major tone describes “wheat fields stretching out like a golden sea” and the minor describes “dark pine forests full of mysterious shadows and spirits.”
Humor in Swan Lake
Humor is an important element for children. The scene with the reporters pokes fun at The
Dance of the Little Swans.
•How does the character of the music fit the words? [Answer: It is like the reporters sneaking around, with its detached accompaniment and paired clarinets.]
Scene 3: Ragtime and Swan Lake
Length of Scene: 5:20
CD Tracks 7–8
Begins: “We have electricity now. Blow out the old candles!”
Ends: “What happened then? Did he find her?”
Alex confesses his resentment of “the old ways” of his immigrant parents. Tchaikovsky tells
of his delight in new inventions, then describes the story of Swan Lake.
•Silver (Sleeping Beauty)
•Overture to Act II (Swan Lake)
Swan Lake: Its Fate and Fame
Swan Lake is to ballet what Handel’s Messiah is to oratorio. Amazingly, both were sketched
out in about three weeks.
How tragic that Tchaikovsky never heard Swan Lake in even a passable performance!
During his lifetime, he had to endure watching sets tip over and costumes fall apart. Even
worse, the amateur conductor and orchestra found the music too difficult. Pages were carelessly thrown on the floor and replaced with easier movements. In fact, his friend Madame
von Meck (of whom we will hear more later) reported that five years after its premiere,
she attended a performance of Swan Lake that was unrecognizable... a full third had been
replaced with other music, often by other composers!
Discussion and Activities
A Week of Swan Lake
•This is one of the most compelling fairy tales in Russian literature. Tell students its plot:
Prince Siegfried is celebrating his coming of age. His mother tells him he must choose a
bride from the guests at the ball the next night. A flight of swans darken the sky as the Prince
and his friends go hunting. They find the swans swimming silently on a lake. Siegfried stays
behind to watch them. A swan rises from the water in human form as Odette. She tells him
the story that is the basis of our segment:
Odette’s mother was a good fairy who married a noble knight. He destroyed her and
married another woman, who tried to kill her stepdaughter. As the script says, Odette
fled and followed her mother’s voice to a magic lake filled by her dying tears. When she
touched the water, she was changed into a swan.
Odette and her friends are now in the power of an evil magician, von Rothbart. His
spell can be broken only when a prince who has never pledged his faith to another
woman asks her to marry him. Prince Siegfried pledges his love and tells Odette to come
to his ball the next night.
At the ball, von Rothbart enters the hall with his daughter Odile. She is the mirror
image of Odette except that she is dressed in black rather than white. The Prince is struck
by her beauty and is about to take her hand in engagement when the cry of an owl
rings out. Von Rothbart appears as a demon and Odile laughs cruelly as Odette appears
sadly at the window. The Prince realizes his mistake and rushes out to the lake. He asks
Odette’s forgiveness, but he has now pledged himself to another and cannot break the
spell. As she tries to say goodbye, he takes the crown from her head and throws it into
the stormy lake. She calls out: “You have destroyed yourself and me.” The last sad song
of the swan is heard as the Prince and Odette disappear under the lake. On the calm lake
appears a band of white swans swimming peacefully.
The story of Swan Lake is great material for a creative writing class. Play this segment for
your class again and ask your students to:
•Tell the story of Swan Lake in your own words.
•Write your own conclusion to this wonderful fairy tale. Swan Lake has been performed
with happy endings, religious endings, sad endings.
•Write a sequel, perhaps based on the idea that Prince Siegfried and Odette do not drown
underwater but return to this world and break the spell for their friends.
•Elaborate on the moral of this story.
•Talk about swans in literature. Why do you think the swan was chosen as the bird into
which the maidens were changed? [Suggestion: They are beautiful and pure.] What is a
“swan song”? [Answer: a last performance.] Do swans have a song? [Answer: No, they are
mostly silent.] Read The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.
Find a book on Swan Lake or bring in the Classical Kids book Tchaikovsky Discovers America
to examine its centerfold picture.
•In art class, listen to the music and draw your favorite scene from Swan Lake.
•Produce sets and costumes for a short classroom production of Swan Lake. Only two sets
are necessary: the enchanted lake and the castle hall.
Sections of Swan Lake were conceived in mime. It is a great preparation for a classroom
production of this wonderful ballet.
•With your class, write down the words of the script for Odette’s story.
•Have students act it out in mime, using an appropriate gesture to describe each phrase
(e.g., “When I was a little child [hand low to indicate a short person], “I was bewitched
by a sorceress” [fists clenched above head]).
•Ask students to rewrite and dance their own version of this wonderful ballet, using the
sets prepared above.
Ballerinas in Tchaikovsky’s Time
Many people are surprised to learn that ballet did not develop into its present form until
•Bring in a book of Degas’s famous ballerina paintings. Ask your students how these ballerinas
differ from today’s. Answers:
–Tchaikovsky’s ballerinas had soft slippers rather than hard toe shoes.
–They wore soft, calf-length skirts rather than short tutus.
–There was a different definition of beauty: earlier ballerinas were often shorter and stockier
than our present long-legged prima ballerinas.
–Ballerinas did not tie their hair back in a tight bun, but let it hang loose around their face.
•Continue to explore the world of ballet:
–Why do students think these changes may have occurred? [Answers: changes in the definition of beauty, improvements in the technology of shoes and materials, new training methods.]
–Ask a ballet teacher or student to explain the principle ballet positions and steps.
–Anna Pavlova was a ballerina who did much to change the look of ballet. There are many
children’s books on this heroic dancer. Have students research her story and tell it in their
Dance and Sport
As in sports events today, the Russian ballet community was fierce in cheering or booing its dancers.
•Discuss with your class the differences between dance and sport using the examples of ballet
and modern figure skating. Why is one considered an art and one a sport?
•Swan Lake is as difficult for the dancers as for the musicians. At one point the Black Swan
does an impossible 32 fouettés (spins) on point. Today, many audiences count them out like
triple Axels in skating. Bring in a recording of Swan Lake and enjoy the Black Swan’s wild music, called the Coda. No more exciting orchestral music exists!
Exploring the Music
The Famous “Swan Motif”
Tchaikovsky’s music eloquently captures Odette’s loneliness and approaching doom. It appears
in two forms, one melody descending and one ascending (used in this recording).
•As you play them to your class, see whether your students can determine which theme suggests doom or loneliness. [Answer: the descending line.] Which suggests eventual triumph?
[Answer: the ascending line.]
Two Swan Motifs
Act 1. Overture
Act II. Overture
•Can your class identify the solo instrument of both these melodies? [Answer: oboe.] Why
is this a good choice? [Answer: This woodwind has the most pure tone. It gives the tuning A for the rest of the orchestra, and is often compared to the human voice.]
•What instruments dominate the later forte statement? [Answer: four horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba — a large orchestra!]
•Tchaikovsky’s writing is so compelling that few children realize that they are listening to
almost four minutes of continuous music. Play this segment again and see how many
examples your students can find where the music imitates the words. For example:
–The harp mimics “The branches brushed their faces” and “They arched their long necks
and swam in magical circles.”
–A dramatic musical pause highlights the moment when “they danced in the moonlight.”
–The major key asserts itself at the shining moment when “in an instant, the Prince was
surrounded by a snowstorm of white feathers. The swan maidens rose above the waters, their wings silver in the moonlight.” (The theme also changes from descending to
There is so much wonderful music in Swan Lake. On this recording, we hear the Napolitaine (Scene 1), the Danse des Cygnes (Scene 2) and some of the Waltzes (Scenes 2 and 5).
•Listen to the condensed Orchestral Suite of Swan Lake (Op. 20) with your class. It is readily available in stores or libraries.
How About a Little Ragtime?
It became fashionable in the 1890s to play Romantic composers such as Chopin and
Tchaikovsky in the new ragtime beat. Ragtime began on the piano, but was later adopted
by Big Bands. Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag was written in 1904, 13 years after Tchaikovsky’s trip to America.
•Listen again to John Arpin’s ragtime improvisation on Silver, then have students play
with this musical form by asking:
•Where do you think the name “ragtime” came from? [Answer: the rhythm is “ragged time.”]
•What is the difference between a composed piece and an improvised piece? [Answer: the
latter is not written out.] Which technique does rock and roll use? What are the differences between notation, chord symbols and charts?
•What is the time signature of Silver? [A clue: start counting after the first four notes. The
time signature is 4/4.]
•Now encourage your class to make their own ragtime, using a familiar theme such as
“Frère Jacques” (“Are You Sleeping”). Here are the steps:
1. Create a simple bass accompaniment. In its simplest form, alternate F’s and C’s in a
perfectly even rhythm. The accompaniment now looks like this, and can be played
on piano, guitar or glockenspiels.
2. Play or sing “Frère Jacques” along with the bass, one note per bass accompaniment.
3. Now try it in syncopated time. For example, start beat one on time, then tuck beat
two in tightly to that note so it comes before the A–C hits.
4. Build the third phrase by experimenting with dotted rhythms.
Scene 4: Father Arrives and Sleeping Beauty
Length of Scene: 11:00
CD Tracks 9–13
Begins: “I guess you’ll have to come to Russia and find out.”
Ends: “Together they danced in the first moments of their love.”
The travelers get a taste of American food and games during a whistle stop at Albany.
Father joins Tchaikovsky and the children. He tells about his voyage to America and his
desire to return to Russia. Alex shows Tchaikovsky electricity. The composer demonstrates
how he put it in his music. Jenny dances to the music of the Sugar Plum Fairy (The Nutcracker). Tchaikovsky tells the story of Sleeping Beauty.
•“The Maiden’s Chorus” (Eugene Onegin)
•Coda (The Nutcracker)
•Violente (Sleeping Beauty)
•Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (The Nutcracker)
•Le Sommeil and Panorama (Sleeping Beauty)
A Fateful Marriage
Scene 4 opens with “The Maiden’s Chorus” from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. There
is a tragic personal story associated with this piece. A young music student named Antonina Ivanovna wrote to Tchaikovsky at precisely the time he was writing the operatic love
letter between Tatiana and Onegin. Feeling that Antonina’s letter was a sign, the composer
proposed to her. Three months after they married, Tchaikovsky suffered a “violent nervous
attack” and went into a coma for 48 hours. Antonina ended her days in an insane asylum.
America in the 1890s
The energy of America is reflected in the wild swirling music of The Nutcracker’s Coda. In
his letters, Tchaikovsky repeatedly praised the inventions that were changing the lives of all
those living in the 1890s:
•Peanut butter (invented by a St. Louis physician as a health food); hot dogs and cotton
candy; postcards (1861); Coca-Cola (invented in Atlanta, Georgia, 1887) and ginger ale
20 years later; drinking straws (1888); soda water; the zipper.
•The rotary dial telephone and automatic exchange (1891, the telephone having been invented in 1867); the telegraph and telegram; the phonograph player (by Edison in 1877)
and its recording on wax-covered zinc disks 10 years later (the gramophone); the Kinetoscope for a single spectator to view animated pictures (1891).
•American Express Travelers’ checks; the adding machine; the Waterman fountain pen;
Ever Ready batteries; electricity and the first electric oven; the first steel-framed building
in Chicago; photographs (Tchaikovsky had his taken while he was in New York); the bicycle (1864); hot-air balloons (trip around the world in 67 days); the gasoline buggy; the
removable tire by Michelin (1891); an engine-powered plane by French Clement Ader
(which flew for a few inches, 1890).
•Within the next decade would come the radio, the Model-T Ford, the airplane, the first
wireless telegraph, moving pictures and the first modern Olympics.
Politics and Society in Three Countries
In 1891, the population of the United States was 62.9 million. Benjamin Harrison was its
23rd president and the National American Woman Suffrage Association campaigned for
the right of women to vote. In the West there was the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded
Knee and the Oklahoma Land Grab. Stanford University, the University of Chicago,
Yosemite Park and the New York Botanical Garden were established in 1891.
In 1891, the population of Canada was 4.8 million. Sir John A. Macdonald was elected
for his second term as Prime Minister, but died of a stroke three months later. To tie this
vast country together, the last spike of Canada’s National Railroad had been driven in just
six months earlier.
In Russia, the crops of 1891 failed, reducing millions to starvation. As peasants raided
the towns in search of food, Tchaikovsky knew only too well that revolution was in the air.
Tchaikovsky’s “Woman of Mystery”
Madame von Meck was the wealthy widow of a powerful railway builder. An amateur
pianist, she was infatuated with Tchaikovsky and even arranged for one of his students to
report regularly to her about the composer’s daily life. She often sent Tchaikovsky money
and even gave him rooms in the gatehouse on her estate on the condition that they never
meet. For more than 13 years, the two exchanged over 1,100 passionate letters about music
and love. Then, just months before Tchaikovsky left for America, the letters and money
mysteriously stopped. He was devastated. Without explanation, his “woman of mystery”
retreated into a reclusive life, plagued by tuberculosis and money problems.
Immigrants and Ellis Island
In Mr. Petroff’s story, we get a glimpse of the voyage endured by more than three million
immigrants to America between 1880 and 1890. Ellis Island opened the year after Tchaikovsky’s visit and by 1912 New Yorkers were lining the balcony of the Great Hall to watch
5,000 immigrants a day arriving in the New World. Ellis Island has recently been refurbished into a magnificent museum. Has anyone in your class been there?
Discussion and Activities
America’s Favorite Game
Invented in the 1840s, baseball was refined to its present form in 1845 by Alexander Carter
of New York’s Knickerbocker Club. Three years after Tchaikovsky’s visit, the New York Giants
set a league attendance record of 400,000 for a year.
•Can your class think of baseball jokes? [Suggestion: “All my basses are in the orchestra.”
“You certainly know the score.”] Tell some favorite stories about baseball and players.
Alex’s Story: Immigrants
Alex is afraid that his father wants the family to return to Russia. Ask your class:
•Was anyone born in another country? Were your parents born elsewhere? Grandparents?
Explain the difference between first-, second- and third-generation immigrants.
•Is English the language spoken in your home? Can you speak another language?
•Have you ever visited your family’s country of origin? What differences did you notice?
Children and Tchaikovsky
“Children are enchanting. Only puppies are better: they are the pearls of creation.”
While writing Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky enjoyed the company of a three-year-old girl.
She was the child of one of the servants on his friend’s estate and amused him with her
charming chatter and love of fairy tales. “He seemed to know that grownups must not talk
to children in a special way, talking down to them; but simply, as if they were grownup
too.” Later, many poor students at the Moscow Conservatory were given scholarships by an
“unknown donor” — Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky!
•Ask students if they can tell when grownups are talking down to them? Do they like it or
•Can anyone in your class play some of his children’s music (Op. 39)?
A Project on Inventions
Explore the inventions of the 1890s with your class. Start by copying the list at the beginning of this chapter or work from a chronology at the library.
•Ask students to pretend they live in 1891 and write newspaper articles about the latest
inventions. This exercise teaches journalistic writing with compressed, eye-catching prose
and dramatic headlines. Don’t forget to include the date and city at the top of the article.
•Have students make a list of what was not yet invented in 1891: motorcycles, radio, the
Space Shuttle, television, computers, Nintendo, fax machines, Federal Express, cellular
phones, Disney World, Lego, lasers, open heart surgery and the polio vaccine. How many
more can they add?
•Suggest creating a wall mural that reflects the general excitement of the era, including its
inventions, landscape and people.
Activities on Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky’s own favorite ballet, was first performed just a year before his
Tell your students Tchaikovsky’s version of this classic fairy tale.
At Princess Aurora’s christening, she is visited by the good fairies who bestow their gifts:
Candide (for beauty), the Wheat Fairy (for grace), Breadcrumbs Falling (for food), Canary (for eloquence) and the Lilac Fairy (for wisdom).
The Wicked Fairy, Carabosse, arrives and announces that Aurora will prick her finger
and fall into an everlasting sleep on her 16th birthday. The Lilac Fairy uses her magic to
assure that Aurora will awaken from the spell if a Prince kisses her. The King commands
that all the spindles and needles in the kingdom be taken away.
On Aurora’s 16th birthday, many princes come to a ball to seek her hand in marriage.
In the famous “Rose Adagio,” the ballerina must remain steadily on point while each
Prince presents her with a rose.
An old hag arrives and offers Aurora a spindle. The girl dances with it, pricks her
finger and falls to the ground. The Lilac Fairy orders Aurora to be carried into the palace.
The entire court falls asleep for a hundred years. In this recording, Le Sommeil describes
the palace covered with flowers, waiting for love to come.
A hundred years later, a Prince and his huntsmen arrive. The Lilac Fairy appears in a
boat of mother-of-pearl and tells the Prince about Aurora. She leads him to the Palace.
When the Prince kisses Aurora, the spell is broken and all awaken. During the wedding,
other fairies arrive, including Silver (remember the Ragtime from Scene 3!), Gold and
fairy tale characters such as Cinderella.
Similar to the activities for Swan Lake, ask your class to:
•Tell this story in their own words as they understand it from the recording.
•Describe how it is different from the fairy tale version of Sleeping Beauty that they know.
•Talk about some other fairy tales that include fairies or godmothers (e.g., The Wizard of
Oz). How are they similar to or different from those described here?
•Write a rhyming spell that Carabosse might have said to make Aurora fall asleep.
Like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty is a wonderfully visual story. Listen again to this section
and draw the scene as you see it in your imagination.
•Research the legendary dance partners Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev, who made
Sleeping Beauty so famous. There is plenty of information on both dancers in the library.
Exploring the Music
“The Maiden’s Chorus” from the opera Eugene Onegin is the next page. Ask your class:
•What is the time signature? [Answer: a gently rocking 3/4 rhythm.]
•What mood does it create? [Suggestion: a peaceful country scene.]
•Sing it in a concert.
Sandwiched between the gentle “Maiden’s Chorus” and the melancholic Marche Slav, the
Coda from The Nutcracker virtually explodes on this recording. This piece is excellent for
exploring ABA form in music.
•Suggest students be musical detectives and find out how many phrases there are in the
first theme. [Answer: four — the phrases are clearly separated by “breaths-points.”]
•Ask how often does the theme return? [Answer: twice.]
•Have your students raise their hand when they hear the “flute swirls” wrap around the
return of the main theme.
The Maiden’s Chorus
Arr. Susan Hammond
This is one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous pieces. Spend some time with it using these activities and questions:
•What instruments underlie the words “I knew then that I had a new life ahead of me...
a new world”? [Answers: horns, for nobility.]
•Review Swan Lake (Track 8) and the 1812 Overture (Track 6) to recall how major and minor keys offer different moods. In the Marche Slav, what words signal the change to the
major key? [Answer: the section about coming up on board to see the Statue of Liberty.]
•Often a performance is more compelling if the performer can put into words exactly the
emotion he or she is trying to express. For instance, students might say the Marche Slav is
“sad.” As an exercise in creative writing, listen again and develop a list of close qualifiers
for the word “sad.” For example, is it melancholy, nostalgic, hurting in the distant past or
painfully close, resigned or hopeful...?
•Similarly, try to make a list of qualifiers for the word “happy.” Such an exercise will improve students’ creative writing skills as well as their performance of music.
•The Marche Slav is similar in mood to Swan Lake’s haunting swan motif (Scene 3). Both
were written in 1876 and share a quintessentially Russian flavor. A more familiar example of this type of melody is the “Volga Boat Song.” Find an appropriate movement and
make up your own words.
Volga Boat Song
Violente: Electricity and Sleeping Beauty
The composer had seen electricity for the first time in Paris and wrote Violente (Energy) in
close collaboration with his favorite choreographer, Petipa. Then Petipa outlined the character of the dance, including the number of beats for each movement. Ask your class:
•How does Violente imitate energy or electricity? [Answer: The phrases are short, darting
and highly charged.]
•Can you find some movements that express this music? More advanced classes might try
this original choreography:
–Keeping your arms parallel to each other, “shoot” them diagonally across your body:
downward to each side, then diagonally upwards to each side.
–Add stabbing motions with your index fingers (to represent electrical bolts).
–Make up some footwork and, voilà — a ballet is born!
This well-known piece features a new instrument that Tchaikovsky discovered in Paris: the
celeste. It has a keyboard like a piano, which activates little bells inside a cabinet. The composer told his publisher to buy it as a “secret weapon” for his last ballet, The Nutcracker.
Listen to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and ask your class:
•Why do you think the celeste is well named? [Answer: “heaven” is often associated with
sweet bells and céleste means heaven in French.]
•How would you describe the rhythm? [Suggestion: gently “square” and restrained.]
•Can you think of a dance movement for this famous piece? Begin by listing some adjectives. [Suggestions: otherworldly, charming, measured.] Then decide how you could best
express these qualities with your arms, legs and bodies.
•Try to invent a way of “writing out” your dance. Experts have spent years finding ways to
notate movement. Who knows — your notated dance chart might even become a work
of art in itself!
There is so much wonderful music in Sleeping Beauty that it was difficult to decide which
sections to use for this recording. In the end, we settled on two movements: Le Sommeil
•Le Sommeil makes an excellent study in orchestration. Ask your class:
–What does the French word sommeil mean in English? [Answer: sleep.]
–How does Tchaikovsky suggest sleep? [Answer: the high tremolo violins are dreamlike
and unreal above the theme.]
–How does he suggest a dark, mysterious scene? [Answer: Clarinets and other woodwinds move slowly upwards toward a curiously accented chord.]
–How does he suggest the evil Carabosse? [Answer: jagged strings.]
–How does he suggest the Lilac Fairy? [Answer: a smooth far-off solo trumpet.]
–How does he suggest a transition or passage of time? [Answer: harp swirls moving
•The following Panorama lushly depicts the mother-of-pearl boat in which the Lilac Fairy
takes the Prince to the castle. Ask your class:
–What makes the Panaroma seem to float in space? [Answer: the harp set against syncopated triplets of a waltz.]
–Play along with the recording on your glockenspiels. You need only a simple descending scale of G-F#-E-D.
Scene 5: Conclusion
Length of Scene: 8:28
CD Tracks 14–16
Begins: “It looks as if we have two more sleeping beauties.”
Ends: “Goodbye, goodbye.”
Father talks to Tchaikovsky about his plans to return to Russia. The children whisper their
fears about leaving America. The reporters come in for “one last question.” At Niagara
Falls, the immigrants leave the train singing “Amazing Grace.” There, Tchaikovsky and
the family come to some important realizations. After a successful Carnegie Hall concert,
Tchaikovsky leaves America as the family waves goodbye.
•“Long, Long Ago”
•“The Maiden’s Chorus” (Eugene Onegin)
•Waltz (Swan Lake)
•Serenade for Strings, Mvt 1
•Serenade for Strings, Finale
•1812 Overture, Finale
The Statue of Liberty and the French Connection
Tchaikovsky celebrated his 51st birthday on May 7 in America, just two days after his Carnegie concert. Someone gave him a souvenir Statue of Liberty for a present. Here is its story:
France played a decisive role in the American War of Independence in 1776. The French
sculptor Auguste Bartholdi decided to celebrate its centennial with a giant statue. The
French–American Union supported his dream, but only the arm and torch arrived on time
for the 1876 celebration in Philadelphia. Gustav Eiffel was asked to build the huge iron
framework and the publisher Joseph Pulitzer to finance the giant pedestal. Mark Twain
auctioned manuscripts for the cause and Emma Lazarus contributed its moving poem after
watching Jewish immigrants from Russia. The Statue of Liberty was installed in New York
Harbor on October 28, 1886.
In the end, this famous statue stood even higher than the Eiffel Tower: 305 feet including its pedestal. The frame is 162,000 pounds (73,483 kilograms) and the copper weighs
200,000 pounds (90,720 kilograms). It carries the message:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! — Emma Lazarus
Discussion and Activities
Questions to ask and activities to suggest:
•Copy out the words as they are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
•Choose a piece of music you think is appropriate and recite the poem over this music.
•Has anyone visited the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island? Can you bring in brochures and
talk about them?
•Make a research project on these two great symbols of America’s gateway.
•For years, Tchaikovsky was terrified to conduct. Read aloud this agonizing description of
a concert ordeal that took place when Tchaikovsky was only 28:
“The stance he took was grotesque. With one hand, he grasped his scraggy beard. With
the other he held the baton, but the gestures he made with it were wild and uncontrolled: he did not appear to be looking at the score at all. The audience began to realize
that there was no relation between his antics and what the orchestra was playing. The
players were well rehearsed. Receiving nonsensical indications from the conductor, they
took over the responsibility themselves, leaving Tchaikovsky to devote himself to his
own task, which was nothing less than preventing his head from falling off.”
While in America, Tchaikovsky wrote:
“I am 51 today. I feel very excited. The concert begins at two o’clock, with the Suite. This
curious fright I suffer from is very strange. How many times have I already conducted the
Suite and it goes splendidly? Why this anxiety? I suffer horribly, and it gets worse and worse.
I never remember feeling so anxious before. Perhaps it is because over here they pay so much
attention to my outward appearance, and consequently my shyness is more noticeable.”
Talk about fears by asking your students:
•Can anyone describe a fearful situation they have experienced? [Suggestions: performing
at a concert, running in a race, seeing a frightening movie or being vaguely aware that
something terrible is happening.]
•Why might Alex’s idea to “open your eyes” be a good one? [Suggestion: If you really look
at a situation, you will often find there is little to be afraid of.]
•What are the signs of fear? [Suggestions: sweating, feeling unable to breathe, upset stomach.]
•What kind of situations make you most fearful?
•Do you have good luck charms to take along to such a situation?
•How can you best get over your fears?
•Alex helps Tchaikovsky overcome his fear of conducting. How has Tchaikovsky helped
Alex? [Answer: He convinces Mr. Petroff that the family belongs in America.]
On Civil Wars
During the talk between Tchaikovsky and Father, the composer says, “You’ve had your civil
war. Ours is yet to come.”
•Do your students know how many years separated Tchaikovsky’s visit from the American
Civil War? [Answer: 27 years.]
•How long was it before the Russian Revolution? [Answer: 14 years.]
The Sixth Wonder of the World: Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls has been a major tourist attraction for longer than we might think. It has
been visited by many famous Europeans: Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde and Gustav Mahler
(who penned the memorable comment, “At last a fortissimo!”). Tchaikovsky’s own words
vividly describe Niagara Falls in 1891:
“I will not describe the beauty of the Falls, as such things are difficult to express in
words. The beauty and majesty of the sight are truly breathtaking. It is divided into
several separate waterfalls of which two are colossal... Went to the Three Sisters Islands...
then across a marvelous, daring and beautiful bridge to the Canadian side. This bridge
was constructed or, better, thrown across the Niagara but two years ago. One feels dizzy
when looking below... I changed into some very ugly clothing, descended in an elevator
below the Falls and walked through a tunnel to finally stand right below the Falls... a little frightening. The Niagara, a river wider than the Volga, does battle against the rapids...
I descended by cable railway and walked along the shore level with the roaring river.”
Questions to ask and activities to suggest:
•Has anyone in your class been to Niagara Falls? How do your impressions differ from
•Bring in some tourist or history books on this long-time tourist attraction.
•Research the history of Niagara Falls: When did the first American successfully go over
the Falls? [Answer: 1886, when Carlisle D. Graham of Philadelphia went over the Falls in
a reinforced oak barrel with a canvas and string bag inside.]
•Create a mural of the immigrants streaming toward the Falls and Tchaikovsky gaining the
courage to conduct before them.
Epilogue: Before the Statue of Liberty
Two final activities:
•Talk about the use of a prologues and epilogues. In what way does Tchaikovsky Discovers
America use these devices? [Answer: It begins with a description of Tchaikovsky’s ship
sailing into New York Harbor and ends with his ship sailing away. Both scenes are detached from the flow of the main story, which takes place in Carnegie Hall, on the train
and at Niagara Falls.]
•This epilogue creates a misty, surreal picture. While listening to the moving finale of
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, provide art materials for your class to paint the closing scene: as Tchaikovsky’s ship pulls out of New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty,
fireworks light the sky.
Exploring the Music
“Long, Long Ago” and “The Maiden’s Chorus”
Listen to how this 18th-century English song “Long, Long Ago” melts seamlessly into
Tchaikovsky’s “The Maiden’s Chorus.” Ask your class:
•In what sense are these two songs similar? [Answer: They are both pastorales, describing
a longing for the simple country life.]
•Sing “Long, Long Ago” as printed here. It can be accompanied simply with only two chords
(F+ and C+). Younger classes can accompany the entire piece on a single glockenspiel in C.
•Sing “The Maiden’s Chorus.”
Do your students know the story “Amazing Grace”? While bringing his “human cargo”
back from Africa, a slave trader had a religious conversion and realized the error of his
ways. Ask your students:
•How does this story explain the last two lines of the song?
•Sing “Amazing Grace,” using the glockenspiel descant on Orff instruments.
•On this recording, what is the accompaniment to the second verse and what effect does
it create? [Answer: A uniquely still “string pad” is wrapped around the voices of the girls
to create a sense of reverent wonder.]
Serenade for Strings
“Amazing Grace” is so similar to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings that we
were tempted to lay the two pieces on top of each other. Pose these questions to your class:
•How would you put into words the mood of these two pieces. [Suggestions: solemn,
•How does the opening of the Serenade for Strings portray the waterfalls? [Answer: Its melody
is a huge descending scale suggesting tremendous power in a downward direction.]
•Obtain a copy of the entire Serenade for Strings, Op. 49. It has four movements: this
opening, a quietly radiant Elegie, the Waltz we heard in the first scene and the Finale,
which underlies the mist in the harbor during the Epilogue. In this Finale, you can hear
the same tremolo violin technique that was used in Le Sommeil. The overall effect is very
similar to Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland. By way of comparison, listen to both
recordings, Russian and American.
1812 Overture, Finale
The Finale of the 1812 Overture is one of the best-known pieces in all of classical music. It
is interesting that Tchaikovsky was not much impressed with this work. He called it “showy
and noisy,” with “no artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love.”
Generations of listeners would disagree. In 1993, the Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav
Rostropovich played it in Red Square to celebrate the dawning of democracy in Russia.
Just a glance at the score of the 1812 Finale is terrifying. Maybe the fact that it was made
to be played outdoors, rather than inside a concert hall, accounts for its huge size. It is a
good thing that Tchaikovsky was not paying for all those players!
•Direct the attention of your class to the use of a huge brass section (four horns, four
trumpets, three trombones, one tuba). To this, Tchaikovsky adds no fewer than four
percussionists, cathedral bells and cannon fire. Still unsatisfied, he augments the sound
with an entire military band. Like Beethoven’s addition of a choir to his “Ode to Joy,”
Tchaikovsky needed more than even the largest orchestra to express his vision.
•Can your students hear echoes of the French “La Marseillaise” and the Russian national
anthem in the Finale?
Long, Long Ago
Arr. Susan Hammond
Arr. Susan Hammond
Tchaikovsky on Other Composers
•Mozart: “When I play Mozart, I feel brighter and younger, almost youthful again... To my
mind, Mozart is the culminating point of all beauty in the sphere of music. He alone can
make me weep and tremble with delight.”
•Beethoven: “I praise him unconditionally... but I do not love him.”
•Bach and Handel: “I like to play Bach, because it is interesting to play a good fugue, but
I do not regard him as a great genius. Handel is only fourth-rate; he is not even interesting.”
•Brahms and the Romantics: “Brahms’s creative gift is meager, unworthy of his aspirations...
Liszt’s compositions leave me cold.” Tchaikovsky claimed he hated Wagner, liked Weber,
admired Mendelssohn and loved the sweet Schumann.
Other music by Tchaikovsky to explore with your class: six symphonies, four concerti,
eleven operas, three famous ballets, orchestral suites, string quartets, songs and piano
After the Recording
Questions to ask:
•In what sense did Tchaikovsky “discover” America? [Answer: He learned about its people,
its music, its landscape.]
•How many years separated Tchaikovsky’s “discovery” from that of Columbus? [Answer:
•Any good story demands change in its characters. How have Alex, Jenny and even Tchaikovsky been changed by this experience?
•What can you remember most vividly about the story? What were your favorite parts?
•From the descriptions in Tchaikovsky Discovers America, create a class mural to represent
the Old World meeting the New.
•While listening to the music, make individual or group pictures of Tchaikovsky’s three
•Try to organize a class outing to see one of Tchaikovsky’s ballets.
•Visit a ballet studio or ask a dance teacher to come in to explain the technique and
history of ballet.
•Ballet is the essence of Tchaikovsky. Choose a ballet and create your own class version of it.
Classical Kids and the Integrated Curriculum
This chart and the following 10-day Lesson Plan illustrate the themes and skills developed
in these Teacher’s Notes for Tchaikovsky Discovers America.
There is also a sample question sheet after the Lesson Plan for those teachers wishing to
assess their students’ skills and knowledge with a short test.
•America in the 1890s
•Statue of Liberty
•Fairy and folk tales
•Prologue and epilogue
•Point of view
•Ballet and sports
•Piano Concerto No. 1
•Major–minor tonality, motifs
•1812 Overture, Marche Slav
•Serenade for Strings
•Singing American songs
•Trains and ships
Suggested Lesson Plan
• Familiar music
• Character change
• Old World, New • Favorite parts of
• The first modern
• Price of fame
• Family (10)
• Diaries, quotes
• Women in
• Fears (35)
• Tracing Tchaikovsky’s trip (18)
• Other composers
• Inventions (10,
• Statue of Liberty
• Ellis Island
• Niagara Falls (36)
• America in
• Baseball (27)
• Maps (18)
• Civil wars and
politics (27, 35)
• Fairy tales (17,
• Point of view
• Retelling story
(12, 17, 22, 29)
• Sequels (17, 22)
• Vocabulary (17)
• Prologue and
• Dancing to
18, 32, 33)
• Mime (22)
• Ballet and
sports (22, 29)
• Painting scenes
(18, 22, 29, 36,
• Making nut
• The Nutcracker
(12, 17–19, 29,
• Swan Lake (11,
• Sleeping Beauty
Create a Ballet
• Writing scripts
• Seeing a ballet;
inviting a dancer
• Piano Concerto
• 1812 Overture
singing (11, 19,
• Motifs (11)
• “The Maiden’s
• Marche Slav (32)
• Serenade for
• “Swing Low,
• Broadway (12)
• Ragtime (24)
• “Amazing Grace”
• “Long, Long
• Worksheet (43)
Worksheet for Tchaikovsky Discovers America
1. Tchaikovsky visited America in the year
_____. He died two years later at age _____.
2. He lived in the city of____________________
in the country of________________________
3. He traveled by _________ to America, then
by ____________ to Niagara Falls.
4. In New York, he met the __________ family.
The girl’s name was_ ____________________
and the boy’s name was__________________
5. What is Alex’s problem?__________________ _ _____________________________________
6. What is Jenny’s dream?_ _________________ _ _____________________________________
7. Tell the story of Tchaikovsky Discovers America in your own words.___________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
8. List three sad scenes._ ___________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
9. List three funny scenes._ _________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
10.Name the foods / drinks and their country
of origin included in The Nutcracker scene.
11. Tell the story of The Nutcracker in your own
words._________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
12.Tell the story of Swan Lake in your own
words._________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
13.What does Tchaikovsky tell Mr. Petroff on
the train?______________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
14.Do you think this ending was happy, sad?
15.What does Tchaikovsky discoverin America?
_ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
16.What was your favorite scene? Why?_______ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
17.What was your favorite piece of music?
_ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
18.Which singing did you like best?__________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________ _ _____________________________________
answers: Cut off this portion before photocopying worksheet. (1) 1891, 53; (2) St. Petersburg or Moscow, Russia;
(3)ship, train; (4) Petroff, Jenny, Alex; (5) He is afraid his father wants the family to return to Russia; (6) to dance
ballet; (7) N/A; (8) Swan Lake, Father’s story, Sleeping Beauty; (9) Two reporter scenes, baseball; (10) Tea from
China, Coffee from Arabia, Chocolate from Spain; (11) N/A, (12) N/A; (13) Russia is no place for children; (14)
Some of each; (15) inventions, warm people, the courage to conduct; (16) N/A; (17) N/A; (18) N/A.
Classical Kids Awards and Honors
Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Daydreams and Lullabies
Audio: Juno Award Best Children’s Recording (Canada),
Parents’ Choice Silver Honor (U.S.), American Library
Association Notable Children’s Recording Award, Practical Home Schooling Reader Award Music Curriculum
Category and Educational Audio Cassette Category
(U.S.), Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (U.S.),
Parents’ Choice Classic Award (U.S.), Certified Gold
Record (Canada), Certified Platinum Record (Canada)
Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (U.S.), Practical
Home Schooling Reader Award Music Curriculum Category and Educational Audio Cassette Category (U.S.)
Book: Governor General’s Award Finalist – Illustration
(Canada), Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice
Video: Emmy Award for Best Children’s Program,
Parents’ Choice Movie Hall of Fame Classic and Gold
Awards (U.S.), Dove Foundation Dove Family Approved
Seal, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award (U.S.),
Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (U.S.), Gold
Camera Award Best Children’s Program and Best Direction (U.S.), Certified Multi-Platinum Video (Canada)
CD-ROM: National Parenting Publications Honors
Award (U.S.), Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence
(U.S.), Curriculum Administrator Top 100 Districts’
Choice Award (U.S.)
Mr. Bach Comes to Call
Parents’ Choice Gold Award (U.S.), American Library
Association Notable Children’s Recording Award, Parents’
Choice Classic Award (U.S.), Practical Home Schooling
Reader Award Music Curriculum Category and Educational Audio Cassette Category (U.S.), Film Advisory
Board Award of Excellence (U.S.), Certified Gold Record
(Canada), Certified Platinum Record (Canada)
Mozart’s Magic Fantasy
Juno Award Best Children’s Recording (Canada), Parents’
Choice Gold Award, American Library Association Notable Children’s Recording Award, Parents’ Choice Classic
Award (U.S.), Practical Home Schooling Reader Award
Music Curriculum Category and Educational Audio
Cassette Category (U.S.), Film Advisory Board Award of
Excellence (U.S.), Certified Gold Record (Canada), Certified Platinum Record (Canada)
Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery
Juno Award Best Children’s Recording (Canada), Parents’
Choice Gold Award (U.S.), American Library Association
Notable Children’s Recording Award, Parents’ Choice
Classic Award (U.S.), Practical Home Schooling Reader
Award Music Curriculum Category and Educational
Audio Cassette Category (U.S.), AudioFile Earphones
Award of Excellence (U.S.), Film Advisory Board Award
of Excellence (U.S.), Certified Gold Recording (Canada)
Tchaikovsky Discovers America
Audio: Juno Award Best Children’s Recording (Canada), American Library Association Notable Children’s
Recording Award, Parents’ Choice Classic Award (U.S.),
Practical Home Schooling Reader Award Music Curriculum Category and Educational Audio Cassette Category
(U.S.), AudioFile Earphones Award of Excellence (U.S.),
Certified Gold Record (Canada)
Book: Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice
Recommendation, Gibbon Award Finalist Illustration
Parents’ Choice Gold Award (U.S.), Film Advisory Board
Award of Excellence (U.S.), Practical Home Schooling
Reader Award Music Curriculum Category and Educational Audio Cassette Category (U.S.)
Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage
Juno Award Best Children’s Recording (Canada), AudioFile Earphones Award of Excellence, Parent’s Guide
Children’s Media Award, Selected as Outstanding by
Parent Council, Canadian Children’s Book Centre - Our
Song of the Unicorn
Juno Award nomination Best Children’s Recording
(Canada), AudioFile Earphones Award of Excellence,
Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Award of Excellence,
Parents’ Choice Recommendation
Curriculum Administrator Top 100 Districts’ Choice
Award, Learning Magazine – Teacher’s Choice Award,
Practical Home Schooling Association Notable
The Classroom Collection
Teacher’s Choice Award Learning Magazine
Classical Kids Producer
The Order of Canada for her contribution to arts
and education in Canada