Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Something of a Syllabus

The Mendelssohn Educational Outreach Project for the Harrisburg School District's John Harris High School, in September 2009, consists of two components.

(1) With the performance of three compositions by Felix Mendelssohn on September 16th, the students have the opportunity to experience music by one of the great composers of the 19th Century.

(2) The written material posted on the website “Mendelssohn's World” is intended as a cross-curricular guide to teachers and students to the background of the composer and his music. It is the on-line text for information that can be used in the classroom or for additional reading. It is not intended to be a book to be read chapter-by-chapter but perused at will. It is not intended to be a collection of facts to memorize.

This background information is divided into several categories: Mendelssohn's Life (Biography, Family &c), Mendelssohn's Time (Historical Background &c) and Music (some in general, some specifically about Mendelssohn's compositions) some of which have been divided into more specific topics (see below). It is loosely structured and intended to be used flexibly.

Information can be added to enrich a course's existing units or as modules within a class-meeting.

Like individual blog-posts which touch on one specific topic or several more general ones, information can be tied into what ever topic might be discussed at a particular time. Each post will have a “topic tag” (see bottom of post) which you can click on to follow related posts as a separate thread. It is not meant to be pursued as a traditional “learning unit” which begins with chapter one and ends when you get to the last chapter.

“Study Questions” or “Topics for Discussion” will be included in a separate post with links going back to the individual posts' related information

FOR TEACHERS & STUDENTS in the SOCIAL STUDIES CLASSES: you can approach “Mendelssohn's World” from several topics.

For basic background of Mendelssohn's Life: A Mendelssohn Chronology.

STUDY QUESTIONS for Social Studies classes are grouped according to topic: most of these questions try to tie events or issues from Mendelssohn's Time into modern-day technology, events and issues. You can approach the chapters you want to cover according to these possible questions for discussion - links to individual posts are embedded in each group of questions.

#1 - For some Historical Events & Inventions during Mendelssohn's Lifetime
#2 - War & Peace (the Impact of Napoleon)
#3 - Politics and National Culture
#4 - Religious & Social Attitudes
#5 - About Musical Issues (like celebrities, prodigies, popular & classicsal)
#6 - Biographical Topics

You can divide the students into groups, assign them different background issues, have them go to the chapter-post and research the information themselves then have them report back to the class, then and follow up with a general discussion.

You could do the same for the biographical posts about Mendelssohn specifically. One group looks at the post about his being a teen-aged composer, another about personal influences and the family, or about his being born a Jew or his sister being a "woman-composer" - and then report back to the class.

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: Events that occurred during his lifetime: these posts may have information useful in making a transition between world events, specific but non-musical topics and events or ideas from Mendelssohn's life:

Some Historical Events (inventions and events)
The Impact of Napoleon
Being German in the Early 1800s (cultural traits & ideas)
The Economy in Mendelssohn's World (in Germany, 1800-1850)
Math, Science & Philosophy in Mendelssohn's World
An American Chronology Parallel to Mendelssohn's World (not directly related to Mendelssohn's Life but would tie in w/events in our own history that occurred at the time Mendelssohn was alive and composing music in Germany.)
Life Among the Royals: England's Queen Victoria & How She Got There

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BIOGRAPHY: Details of the composer's life.
This post is the "official summarized" biographical post: Mendelssohn's Biography: A Condensed Version

More detail can be found in the following individual posts, chronological chapters from a life:
A Mendelssohn Chronology
A Musical Glossary for Mendelssohn's World (as reference for any musical terms encountered in the biography posts)
Moses Mendelssohn, the Composer's Grandfather
Mendelssohn's Family on his Mother's Side
A Prodigy; Goethe; A Talented Teen-Ager
Mendelssohn & Bach
Mendelssohn's Family on His Mother's Side
Mendelssohn, the Person
Mendelssohn, the Traveler
The Mendelssohn Houses in Berlin
Mendelssohn in Leipzig
Mendelssohn's Life, Mendelssohn's Death (a final chapter)

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RELIGION: Students can compare different aspects of Mendelssohn's Life regarding the religion of his heritage as opposed to the religion he was baptized in when he was 7 years old and compare that to other eras in history: discrimination against the Jews in the 18th and early 19th Century with their recent studies of The Holocaust in the 20th Century. Aspects of Discrimination can be applied to other areas – who has experienced, one way or another, some form of discrimination: Race? Religion? Gender? Age? Lifestyle? Beyond the individual, personal experience, how can this be placed in a wider context?
A Little Bit about Religion in Germany
Moses Mendelssohn, the Composer's Grandfather
Mendelssohn & His Jewish Heritage

WOMEN'S STUDIES: Women in the early-1800s. Mendelssohn's sister was also a composer & pianist but she was not “allowed” to perform in public or publish her music. Students can relate aspects to more recent developments in attitudes toward women in our own society and in other societies around the world. Students can explore these issues by talking with their mothers, aunts, grandmothers to get their own perspectives on what their experiences had been.
Mendelssohn's Sister and Her World
Mendelssohn's Family on His Mother's Side

Celebrities in Music – who are the great men of history? Who are the celebrated icons of pop culture? What was “being a celebrity” like in the 19th Century?
A Prodigy; Goethe; A Talented Teen-Ager - exploring the fascination with very young performers who exhibit adult-level talent (while this post is about musical prodigies, the idea of any gifted students can be discussed for comparison)
Classical, Romantic; Left Brain, Right Brain
Background: Classical & Popular Music - While both of these ideas are difficult to define, they can lead to a varied (but easily distracted) discussion: how do “classical music” and “pop music” (please, use “and,” not “vs.”) relate to other aspects of American culture today and what students experience in their daily lives? In terms of TV, reading, seeing art and architecture, of their own hobbies and interests? What benefits might there be from being “more well-rounded”?

PERSONAL INFLUENCES (see also FAMILY): What shapes a person? These posts explore different circumstances in Mendelssohn's life – his economic background (for example, the family's wealth) as well as some already discussed: his ethnic and religious heritage; the age in which he lived. This does not answer the question “Why did Mendelssohn succeed when others did not.” (I plan another post on more typical life-situations with composers who grew up in poverty or dealt with difficulties during their lives.) How might this lead to a discussion of the impact of our society and lifestyles, family and ethnic heritage and ways, perhaps, of building on or escaping from them?
Moses Mendelssohn, the Composer's Grandfather
Mendelssohn's Family on his Mother's Side
Mendelssohn & His Jewish Heritage
A Little Bit about Religion in Germany
Being German in the Early 1800s
Mendelssohn's Sister & Her World
The Mendelssohn Houses in Berlin

: for those teachers and students not acquainted with the terminology of classical music, many of them are defined here:
A Musical Glossary for Mendelssohn's World

MUSIC for the “NON-MUSIC” TEACHERS & STUDENTS (Tag is abbreviated Music4NonMusicians): what aspects of music are so basic, they can be heard in any kind of music no matter what style it is? How does classical music and how it's put together relate to music the students would come in contact with every day? [POST PENDING]
Background: Classical Music & Popular Music
Celebrities in Music

will be posts that include video-clips (mostly culled from YouTube) of music composed by Mendelssohn or related to his life.

These two are recordings of works to be performed on September 16th:
The Octet: second half of the work that Mendelssohn composed when he was 16
The Piano Trio #1 - 1st Movement
Additional Musical Examples
Into the Magic World of Fingal's Cave: a video visit to the cave itself & a performance of the music Mendelssohn's visit inspired
Mostly Mendelssohn: Italian Symphony (1st Movement), Violin Concerto (3rd Movement performed by two different child prodigies)
Mendelssohn's Greatest Hit: The Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Mendelssohn's Melusina: Not Exactly 'The Little Mermaid'

Other works by Mendelssohn to be performed in Harrisburg this year"
Market Square Concerts offers two programs with Mendelssohn's Music at Whitaker Center this fall (and offers student passes to each concert if requested: passes will be given to the music teachers to distribute)
The Harrisburg Symphony plays Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto #1

MUSIC STUDENTS & TEACHERS can also benefit from exploring any of these same topics, perhaps within a more musical rather than generic context. (See especially BIOGRAPHY, MUSIC ISSUES, above)

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Exposure to art is important in a context where it might not readily occur. Experiencing art is not the same thing as just sitting there listening to it or looking at it.

With popular culture, we assimilate it more easily because we understand the context or can at least relate to it on a more immediate level. It does not require being “learned” because it is already part of our experience.

Anything that is unfamiliar takes time to gain acquaintance. Understanding is not always immediate. Building bridges takes a foundation and several steps before you can walk across to the other side.

Dick Strawser
a.k.a. Dr. Richard Alan Strawser
a.k.a. Dr. Dick