Thursday, February 12, 2015

Monsters: A Dramatic Puppet Show with Prokofiev

Now that we're into our third year of classical music studies, the music gets a little trickier.  In the 'Monsters' puppet show (Dance of the Knights, AKA Montagues and Capulets, from the ballet Romeo and Juliet,  Prokofiev), there are always TWO themes running simultaneously. DOUBLE FUN.

Double Your Fun Again!
I have a fun double-scoop surprise to enhance your enjoyment of the Monsters show every day.  First, we've got some silly story lyrics to help you sing and remember the parts.   Then, for the second scoop of fun, you'll get to see seven stylistic versions, with music for each day of the week.  In one week, this will be your new favorite piece.   

Meet the Characters
My own children decided there needed to be a reason for these monsters to be hanging out together.  We decided they are all roommates, living together in a big house (like perhaps a LPM fraternity at Monsters University, yes it's good 'ol Lambda Pi Mu.) Echoing these melodic themes with voice is easiest when we add some fun words to sing, so we gave each of these characters a theme song.

Note: Even if you love singing the lyrics, make sure that you also allow everyone plenty of chances to just listen and audiate along to the music.  We don't want singing to overshadow the skill of careful listening.

Ogre:  This big, slow, guy is the only member of the house who makes a chore chart.  He simply sings "Left, Right, Left, Right" as he stomps around the house inspecting to make sure there are no messes.  He looks grouchy because he hates finding crumbs on the floor and dirty laundry in the hall. His best friend is Montague the Dragon; in fact, Ogre only comes out to sing if he knows Dragon will be singing, too.

Montague the Dragon: With a famous name like Montague, he wants to make sure everyone knows it. He sings, "Montague the Dragon, I am Montague the Dragon.  And I like flying high, yes I like flying HI-GH.  I can blow fi-re, yes, I can blow fire!"As protector of the house, Montague flies around outside to see if anyone is coming, and keep them out if they're not friendly.

Crocodile: Croc wanders about the house looking for something to eat.  He's always hungry, like some real college students I know, and all he can afford is Ramen.  He sings: "SNAP and chomp and SNAP and chomp and SNAP my teeth!"  It's fun to use your hands like a crocodile mouth to clap on each 'SNAP'. Someone get this guy a pizza!

Ghost: Ghost is the jock of the house, working toward a degree in kinesthesiology.  Right now he's doing a project to see how many pull-ups he can do.  He sings, "Up and Down and Up and Down and Up and Down and..."  We all noticed that he is fantastically fast at doing pull-ups, but that's probably because he doesn't weigh anything. Hope that doesn't mess up his data.

Capulet the Frankenstein: Capulet is the president of the fraternity, and it's no wonder; he is super friendly!  Anytime anyone comes to the house, he welcomes them and escorts them up the grand front staircase (the music sounds like he's stiffly marching up stairs, right?).  He sings, "Hello, friend, I will walk you up the stairs, I like walking up and walking down, I'm Capulet the Frankenstein."  First you'll hear him walk up and down the stairs with Ghost, then with Montague the Dragon, and later on with Skeleton.  He has more friends than any other character!

Skeleton: Skeleton is a quiet, shy, member of the house. His theme is hard to hear because he's so shy compared to someone as outgoing and loud as Capulet the Frankenstein, and Capulet is the only one friendly enough to draw Skeleton out (is there anyone softspoken in your LPM class?).  He tiptoes around, trying not to be noticed as he sings, "Bones are quiet, Bones on tiptoe, Bones are quiet, Bones on tiptoe, Bones are quiet, Bones are shy."  Since each 4 notes have an up-down pattern, I imagine Skeleton huddling down into his shoulders, then extending his neck up, and then dropping back down.  So, he's got an up-down head motion as he sneaks around.

Fall DownThis is not a character, but you hear the distinct sound of Capulet the Frankenstein and Skeleton falling down.  I am pretty sure that Skeleton was skulking around as usual, and Capulet accidentally tripped on him (he does have rather stiff legs) and they both fell down those grand stairs!

Now to really get these melodies in your mind, I put together this little video.  Each theme plays alone so you can isolate it and get it in your mind before going on to hear them layered together. (Youtube hates me right now...I'm working on getting a better video)

Monsters Every Day
Now you're ready to put it all together.  Grab your Orange Roots Manual and flip to the map in the back.  Follow along with your puppets and manual as you listen to each of these variations and soon you'll have no problem discerning each theme.  

When Prokofiev wrote this music, many of these styles had not been invented yet.  People love this passionate music and have fun experimenting with changing how it sounds.  Let's Play Music classes are helping our students understand how they can change chord voicings and rhythms to create different styles. Hooray for the power to understand and make music your own!

Sunday: I just bet the orchestral version, from the ballroom scene of Romeo and Juliet, will make you curious to read the Shakespearean play and watch the full ballet.  This music is used to create a dark atmosphere; you can just tell the Montagues and Capulets are going to get in some trouble.


Monday: This piano version will inspire you to learn to play this piece, no doubt.  Here is a pdf of the simplified themes I printed above…so there's nothing stopping you from getting started today playing those (and it will knock the socks off your LPM teacher!)

Tuesday: This stylized rendition will get your toes tappin'!

Wednesday: This guitar cover (here) will give you great ideas for self-accompaniment.

Thursday: The full-scale metal rock version (here) will make you feel like you've been out partying in the middle of the week. 

Friday: The dubstep remix version (here) will surely get you dancing like a robot.  

Saturday: Grab your controller and invite Mario and Luigi to battle to the video game music version (here).

EVERYDAY BONUS: Musicians love to prank each other in the best, musical ways! Check out this version (here) and listen for something very funny to happen. I laughed until I almost cried! Sergei Prokofiev, 1891-1953
Prokofiev was born in eastern Ukraine. His mother, Maria, had devoted her life to music.  When Sergei was young, she would go to Moscow for 2 months each year to study piano (don't you feel lucky that your LPM teacher lives near you?).  

Sergei was inspired by hearing his mother practice the works of Chopin and Beethoven in the evenings. She helped him learn to play and she transcribed his first composition when he was five. Maria would have been a great LPM parent or teacher!

Sergei didn't slow down; he kept taking lessons, composed an opera at age 9, and was ready to write a symphony by age 11.  Of course by then he had other teachers besides Mom.  Sergei went and studied music at the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1904; that means he was only 13 and much younger than most of the other students.  

When it comes to musical rules, he was a real musical rebel. His compositions sounded original and had a sound unlike other composers.  He became well-known as the composer-performer with his own style.  Some people hated his "futuristic" music, but other listeners thought it was clever.  This month, our LPM students are writing their own music; as teachers we'll guide them to add enough structure to make the song work, but the real decisions are theirs.  If some listeners don't like my student's piece, I console the child, telling him that Prokofiev heard it a few times, too!

In 1914, Sergei entered a piano composition contest.  The prize was a Schreder grand piano. He won the prize by playing his Piano Concerto 1. All across the continent, our young composers are wondering if their song will be considered for the Let's Play Music National Composition Contest that we run each spring.  I do hope your piece does well…but I am sorry to say there is no grand piano as a prize. :(  

Prokofiev was Russian, but as an adult lived in the USA and Europe for many years before finally settling in Moscow with his family.  It was in Moscow, 1936, that he wrote his famous piece for children, Peter and the Wolf. It is definitely worth your while to hear the music that he wrote to introduce children to the voices of the instruments.  In my family, we listen to a CD version each time we take a road trip (is Spring Break coming up for you!?)

In 1940 Romeo and Juliet was finally staged for ballet.  The Moscow dancers had a really tough time with the syncopated rhythms and almost boycotted the music because it was just too tricky.  It's a good thing they decided to try dancing to it, because the show was an instant success.  I hope YOU don't give up on listening to this puppet show, because it could become one of your favorites just as it has become one of mine.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher


  1. Absolutely the best post ever. Monsters will never be the same again. Thanks so much for putting this together.

  2. You are awesome with your posting for LPM! All the information here is so very good, and interesting not only for the students, but we parents, too! Thanks for putting your all into it!

  3. Thanks so much! This will be so helpful for my son!!