Teachers working together to create interdisciplinary units of study are common enough at the School. Usually it’s history and English teachers and librarians working together on research projects or math, science, and tech teachers working to improve the established Middle School STEAM curriculum. Less common and more surprising was a recent collaboration between orchestra conductor Randy Schrade '76 and seventh grade English teacher Anne Rawley.
Last fall while eighth graders prepared to stage Shakespeare's The Tempest, Ms. Rawley had the seventh graders take up the play as well -- reading it for meaning, acting out scenes, memorizing snatches of it, and writing about the play. As a consequence they were a wonderfully prepared and focused audience when the eighth grade boys and the Nightingale girls took the stage in late November.
By January Mr. Schrade was collaborating with Ms. Rawley in having the boys look at The Tempest again, this time by listening to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic treatment of the play, A Fantasy Overture. As the boys listened to Tchaikovsky’s music, Maestro Schrade asked them to imagine their own individual movies and then, using the language of musical analysis—motif, high point, escape tone, chord, harmonics, and dominant C—to connect their cinematic imaginings to Shakespeare’s play. Maps of these connections became the basis of an essay for Ms. Rawley that discussed Tchaikovsky’s view of the play and how it is revealed in his music.
Both teachers were delighted with their collaboration: Mr. Schrade that the boys were able to reach beyond their chorus and orchestra training to use sophisticated language in analyzing a piece of music and Ms. Rawley with the depth of understanding the boys showed after considering the play from three different points of view -- on the page, in performance, and finally in Tchaikovsky’s music. "There was a moment," she said, "when the boys were trying to make sense of the music and the play that the room seemed to stop and for a minute we were together living in the beauty of the art."
Some of their best sentences are below.
"The transition in the song, which first focuses on Prospero, changes the focus to Miranda, altering the motif from dark and dreary to light and melodious."
"My favorite character in the music is Prospero because his music is bold and loud, giving the impression of a dark wizard that can be very dangerous when angry. Tchaikovsky chooses louder, deeper instruments, such as the French horn, tuba, trombone, and string bass to show Prospero’s power over the other characters."
"The marriage symbolizes Miranda’s independence from Prospero, which means that Miranda wins their conflict. In A Fantasy Overture, however, the fact that the piece ends with Prospero’s music suggests that Prospero is the ultimate winner after all."
"Caliban licking the shoes of Stephano shows his rebellion against Prospero. He is worth more than Prospero thinks. The difference between the two characters can be seen in the winds and the strings, creating a suspenseful mood in which Caliban rebels and reclaims his self-worth."
"In the shipwreck, the mariners are forgotten for the rest of Tchaikovsky’s musical piece, and the mariners, in Shakespeare’s play, are also asleep and forgotten."
"Just as Tchaikovsky tells his interpretation of The Tempest, Gonzalo is about to ask Prospero for his interpretation of his life in exile on the island, so in a way we are Gonzalo and Tchaikovsky is Prospero."
"The string bass is a rugged instrument, and so is the character of Caliban."