Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Skaters, a Puppet Show with Johann Strauss II

I just love skating, especially when I've got great music to enjoy as I glide, spin...and yes, CRASH!  We use 'Banditen-Gallop' (Galop of the Bandits) by Johann Strauss II for our Skaters puppet show in 3rd year.

Parents who Prohibit Practicing?!

Johann Strauss II was born October 25, 1825, in Vienna, Austria.  His father, Johann Strauss the Elder, was a self-taught musician and composer.  He hoped his son would avoid the rigors of a struggling musician's lifestyle, and encouraged his son to become a banker, instead.  But, Johann the Younger could not resist... he studied music secretly and asked a violinist from his father's orchestra to give him tips.  One day when his father caught him practicing, he gave him a severe whipping!  I ask my Let's Play Music students, "Do you only practice when your parents push you to, or are you like excited to learn that you would practice even if no one wanted you to do it!?"

Nevertheless, Johann the Younger eventually surpassed his father's popularity and productivity, becoming known as the 'Waltz King' and credited with the dance's enormous popularity. He traveled widely with his orchestra, and even toured the United States in the 1870's.
A Funny Story...
The Bandit's Galop is part of the 1871 operetta, Prinz Methusalem. Strauss planned it to be his first operetta performed in Paris, France, so he chose to write music for a political satire originally written by French authors. (Similar to how today someone might make a movie version of a book they love!) Unfortunately, the French deal fell through and the operetta was taken to Vienna, Austria (and translated into German) for opening night.  Critics did not like the story; it was too complicated, it was not funny, and there were over 35 characters to keep track of.  Nevertheless, Prinz had a good reception thanks to the Strauss score.  

It was first performed in Vienna, so I think it appropriate to check out a 2006 Vienna performance:

A short version of the operetta's plot makes it sound plenty funny to me (maybe I am partially French?): two kings of neighboring, financially-struggling kingdoms decide to have their children marry in a step toward creating international and domestic peace. 

One kingdom has too many soldiers, and can't pay them. The other kingdom has too many artists and can't pay them, either.  The prince and princess meet and fall instantly in love, but the kings distrust and dislike each other, so they decide not to go through with the marriage. They each begin to plant seeds of uprising in the other kingdom and try to keep their children apart (the princess gets locked in a tower!).  

In the scene when you hear "Banditen-Gallopp", a group of bandits come on stage to overthrow the prince. In the end, the prince and princess successfully run away together, and both kings are deposed...then become sovereigns of the opposite realms!  Confusing...but funny!

When we listened to the music, we could have made a puppet show about these silly bandits trying to fight the prince.  Instead, we imagined other actions that could go with the music- it sounds to us like wobbly skaters falling down! When YOU listen, can you imagine a different story for this tune? Whatever it is, I bet it will be funny. (I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!) 

What's a Galop?
A galop (short for gallopade) is music written for dancing, and is named after the fastest running gait of a horse (gallop).  Unlike a waltz in 3/4 time, a galop is written in a fast 2/4 time. The time signature is written next to the treble and bass clef at the beginning of the page- it tells you how many beats will be in each measure. Quiz question: Do you expect to ever see a whole note in 2/4 time? How about a dotted half note? 

The galop was a forerunner of the polka, and a very fast and lively version of the galop is the can-can. In other words, FUN!

Quiz answer: NO, you should not use whole notes (4 counts) or dotted half notes (3 counts) in a 2/4 time composition because they can't fit in a measure.  Instead, we would write two half notes and tie them together across measures (so they sound the same as a whole note).  A tie is a curved line- it looks just like a slur (legato) mark, but since it's connecting two notes of the same pitch, you don't strike the note again, just keep holding it.

Let's Play and Dance!
When I get to know a song this well, I want to learn to play it. Even if my parents tell me I'm not allowed to practice! Here is a version in the key of F you can buy for $3.50. Perhaps you'll ask your new private teacher to help you when you graduate (are you on a wait list for your new teacher yet?)

Strauss's waltz and galop music inspired the world to get up and dance- and today we can dance to a galop, too! Our Sound Beginnings students play with The Infernal Galop by Offenbach, in our froggie game. If you don't want to look like a froggie, you can dance a galop like this: stand in waltz position (see video), slide with your partner to the side, keep moving to the beat of the music, change direction when you want to, and move counter-clockwise around the room.  This dance is both easy to learn and exciting!  Add a few heel-kicks or promenade if the music inspires you.

Grab your kiddo, put on a galop, and dance around the room! If all goes well, strap on some ice skates and repeat :)

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Skating Zealot and Music-Lover

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