Sounds Historic

Music Brings History to Life!


Age range: Good for 10-13 year olds

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! This interactive takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Key Technology: You will need speakers (or headphones) for the music parts, Flash Player version 10 or higher, and Adobe Reader.

This interactive site explores how music is inspired by history, makes history itself, or captures an important place and time. Listen to the pieces from the National Symphony Orchestra’s Sound Historic concert and participate in listening activities for three of the pieces, then follow composer Russell Nadel as he composes an original piece based on an historic event.

Think About...

Don’t forget to try the listening activities for each of the pieces!

Listen to Russell Nadel’s finished composition. How do you think it turned out?

Did You Get It?

  • What are the three things that Russell Nadel says that a new composition needs to be?
  • What are some of the ways that Russell Nadel gets through Artist’s Block?
  • What was unusual about Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and it’s choreography? Why did it make history?

Think About It!

  • Can you think of any other pieces of music that are influenced by history?
  • How do composers use rhythm to express a mood?
  • What are some of the things that composers can do to capture the essence of a place and time through music?

What’s Your Take?

  • What historic event would inspire you to write a piece of music? How might it sound?
  • Which of the pieces did you like best? Why?
  • How did each piece make you feel while you listened to it?

Learn More

Try It Yourself!

Compose your own music on these great sites:

For the Educator

Trying to spice up a history lesson? Consider using music as a vehicle to teach history. Music offers a new perspective on historical events that have shaped the world.

Instructional Strategies

Have students discuss what they know about composers. How do composers write music? What elements of music do they use? How do composers use elements of music to change the music? Do they convey messages with their music? Can music be used to illustrate events or emotions? Have students read about and listen to the pieces in the Listening Activities section, and then complete the listening activities as a class.

Explain that composers are often influenced by the events taking place in the world as they compose music. Invite students to research and then create a storyboard illustrating a historical or current event. Then, have students compose short pieces of music inspired by the events. Have students share their compositions and discuss how their music reflects the events.

To deepen student understanding of the relationship between history and music, have students complete one or more of the following activities:

  • Create a timeline of historical events studied in class thus far. Have students work in groups to research music inspired by these historical events. Students should research the composers of the pieces, identify the elements of music in the pieces, and explain how the elements of music relate to the historical events.
  • Have students research the historical context of the pieces in the Concert Program section. Students should explore the cultures, geography, and events surrounding the pieces and their composers.
  • Have students create a list of their favorite songs and research how they might be inspired by history, capture history, or have made history.
  • Incorporate other art forms. Study the impact of historical and current events on dance, theater, and visual arts.



Amy Heathcott


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