Summon the Heroes

Classical music to the rescue!


Summon the Heroes Podcast

Good for: Grades 3 and up

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! The Listening Activities run about 45 minutes.

Key Technology: You can choose to stream this program on a computer using the player above, or you can subscribe and download it and load it onto your computer or mobile device to listen anytime.

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Heroes and Heroics

At this concert, you’ll learn what it takes to be a hero—and how to know a hero when you see (and hear) one.

Who is a Hero?

Everyday heroes come from the real world. A hero can be an ordinary person who does something great and who is admired for brave deeds or remarkable ability. Sometimes, a nation comes together to honor its heroes. Other times, you choose a personal hero all for yourself.

Honoring our Heroes

Many heroes are people who made history by their accomplishments including artists, leaders, athletes, and explorers. One example is Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War, ended slavery, and worked to gain equality for all Americans. You’ll hear a selection from A Lincoln Portrait, a musical work written by American composer Aaron Copland (pronounced COPE-land) to honor Lincoln’s memory.

Look Around!

There are everyday heroes all around us. These are people who are willing to put the common good and needs of others before their own comfort. They could be soldiers, doctors, firefighters, teachers—even members of your family. At the concert, you’ll hear another work by Aaron Copland called “Fanfare for the Common Man.” (“Common man” is an expression for someone you might see every day.) When you hear Copland’s fanfare, you might be reminded of someone you know.

Up in the Sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...

Superheroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman live in our imagination and are often ordinary people who are gifted with extraordinary abilities. They reflect our best values like justice, fairness, and decency, and inspire us to do good in the world. During the concert, you’ll hear a selection from composer John Williams’ musical score for the movie Superman. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a superhero in flight!

Musical Heroes

The Hall of Musical Heroes

Composers are arists who write or "compose" music. At the concert, you'll meet some musical heroes and learn more about the ways composers bring the idea of heroism to life.

Beethoven and Walker

Musical Heroes (page 2)

Williams, Copland and Rimsky-Korsakov

The Orchestra

Our Hero, The Orchestra

Composers use an orchestra to make big-sounding musicthe kind that is perfect for heroes.

What Makes an Orchestra?

There are four sections, or families of instruments, that make up an orchestra. Each section has different qualities that composers use to give their music its heroic sound.


The Composer's Tools

In addition to instruments, every composer uses the same basic tools to write music.

One tool is pitch which refers to the high notes and low notes. When composers work with pitch, they have many notes to choose from—the high notes, low notes, and all the notes in between. To travel from one note to another, composers might take small steps or giant leaps. They might even climb, crawl, fly, or drop to get from one note to another.

Another tool is rhythm or the timing of the notes against the steady beat of the music. Composers figure out the rhythm of their melodies by choosing between long notes and short notes. Once you mix pitch and rhythm, you’ve written a melody!

Other tools the composer has include tempo, major and minor keys, and dynamics.

  • The tempo refers to the speed of the music. Some songs are fast, some are slow.
  • Composers might decide to change the tone of their tune by switching it from a major key to a minor key. The difference helps determine the mood of the music.
  • Dynamics refers to the volume of the music—how loud or soft the music sounds.

Through the Listening Activities and at the concert, you’ll learn more about these tools and how different composers used them to honor their heroes.

Musical Heroics

Heroes are recognized for their courage, power, humanity, and compassion. How can music describe those things? It's all in the instruments!

What Makes a Hero?

There are many characteristics that heroes have in common. These are just a few:

  • Courage– bravery or a strong heart
  • Compassion– the ability to care
  • Power– the ability to cause change and make things better
  • Humanity– an understanding of the human connection we all share

Sounds Like a Hero

Think of a hero. It can be someone from history, a movie or story, or someone from your life. Which musical instrument or section of the orchestra would you use to announce your hero? Would you use a blaring trumpet? Create a powerful drumbeat? Or does your particular hero call for violins? What quality did the hero have that made you choose each instrument? Would you put two or more instruments together? Which ones, and why?

For the Educator

Tips for Using This Guide

Students (and their teachers!) will get more out of the NSO Young People’s Concert when they are prepared for the Summon the Heroes program in advance.

Here are some tips for using these resources:

Using the CD

  • The Listening Activities are designed for grades 3 and up. The activities may be presented by the classroom teacher or music specialist.
  • Many students will require at least two opportunities to engage with the content of the Listening Activities.

  • Engage Students > Play Track > Reflect > Repeat as needed > Go to the Next Track

General Tips

  • Listen for yourself. Spend some time alone with the Listening Activities and other resources. This prep time is invaluable as you bring these resources into the classroom.
  • Allow enough lead time. Some teachers introduce students to the material four weeks before the concert.
  • Prepare not only for the music but for the event. For many students, this will be their first time at a concert with a full orchestra. They’ll be more comfortable if they know what to expect.
  • Most importantly, bring your own creativity to the process. Change these activities to fit your classroom and add your own variations.

Track 1: Summon the Heroes (7:10)

Students are introduced to different types of heroes including those from pop culture, history, myths, everyday experience, and their personal lives. Students hear how heroes are celebrated with music, whether by a triumphant march or a thoughtful theme.

During the concert, students learn about the basic musical tools used by composers. They listen to rousing marches by composers Aaron Copland and John Williams. They also hear heroes caringly remembered in moving tributes by George Walker, Edward Elgar, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Richard Strauss.


Direct students to Cuesheet. Read how heroes come from history, literature, myth, comic books, and everyday life; how heroes are shaped by courage, compassion, power, and humanity; about the composer’s tools; and about our hall of musical heroes.


Encourage students to share their understanding of high notes and low notes. Discuss the concept of intervals and how it applies in the music.

Track 2: Sounds Like a Hero (5:36)

Students learn about American composer John Williams and his use of pitch and rhythm.


Direct students to Cuesheet. Read how composers use pitch with its high notes, low notes, and everything in between to create melodies; how rhythm is used to create melodies; and about composer John Williams.


While playing this track, review Page 2 of Cuesheet which provides a general explanation of the heroic qualities of Superman March and suggests what Williams might have been trying to convey in this musical theme. The track also includes two gestural Listening Activities to leave students with a practical sense of pitch and rhythm.


Encourage students to share their understanding of pitch (high notes and low notes) and rhythm (timing of notes). Discuss the concepts of intervals/pitch and timing/rhythm and how each applies in the music.

Track 3: Strike Up the Band! (6:15)

Students learn about the four sections of the orchestra; why a composer chooses specific instruments; and about German composer Ludwig van Beethoven and American composer Aaron Copland.


Direct students to Cuesheet. Read about the challenges for composers who write for the orchestra.


While playing this track, review page 6 of the Cuesheet which provides descriptions of the brass, string, woodwind, and percussion sections; direct students to pages 2–3 to discuss the meaning of “Fanfare for the Common Man” and the presence of everyday heroes in their lives.


Encourage students to share their understanding of instrumentation. Discuss why Beethoven chose the strings section to express the humanity in his work? What drew Copland to choose the brass and percussion sections for his fanfare?

Track 4: Sound the Trumpets (4:24)

Students learn composers are sometimes inspired by other composers, making it possible to hear similarities between musical works. Students also hear distinct differences between pieces as they are introduced to American composer John Williams’ Summon the Heroes.


Direct students to the Cuesheet. Read with students about composers Aaron Copland and John Williams.


While playing this track, connect students with information about the composer’s tools. Remind students about the basic tools of pitch and rhythm, tempo, dynamics, and instrumentation.


Encourage students to share their understanding of tempo and dynamics. Re-listen to music by Copland and Williams to help students distinguish the particular differences between the compositions.

Track 5: In Depth: Lincoln Portrait (3:10)

Students learn how a composer chooses specific tools to combine an American hero’s actual words with music.


Direct students to the Cuesheet. Read about composer Aaron Copland’s efforts to compose a musical tribute to President Abraham Lincoln.


While playing this track, connect students with information about composers’ tools. Remind students about the basic tools of pitch and rhythm, tempo, dynamics, and instrumentation.


Encourage students to share their understanding of the tone of Copland’s work. Why does Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait sound more stately and dignified than Williams’ music for the movie Superman?

Track 6: Playing the Heartstrings (3:16)

Students are introduced to the orchestra’s string section and the ability to use major and minor keys.


Direct students to the Cuesheet. Read with students about composer George Theophilus Walker.


While playing this track, connect students with information about the composer’s tools. Remind students about pitch and rhythm, tempo, dynamics, instrumentation, and major and minor keys.


Encourage students to share their understanding of instrumentation and major and minor keys. Re-listen to Walker’s music to allow students to distinguish between the keys.

Track 7: The Matching Game (4:01)

Students recap the learning from the Listening Activities.


Revisit the composers and heroes from the Listening Activities. Remind students of the basics that serve as clues to identify the music. The composer’s tools are identified as: pitch, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, and instrumentation.


Play the Matching Game on Track 7. Students re-listen to excerpts from Williams, Copland, Beethoven, and Elgar and match the work with each composer’s “hero.”


If time allows, ask students to share specific “clues” that helped them to identify the music. It might have been the hero or the subject of the music. Or, it may have been the composer’s tools. Give bonus points if students identify instruments or the sections of the orchestra. The correct answers are:

  1. Elgar, “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations
  2. Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait
  3. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, 2nd Movement, “Allegretto”
  4. Williams’ Superman March

Preparing for the Concert

Before you depart:

  • Remind students that no eating or drinking is permitted in the Concert Hall.
  • Suggest students bring a light sweater or jacket in case the hall is cold.

When students arrive:

  • Encourage students to visit the restrooms in the lobby before the concert begins.
  • Remind students to sit still in their seats and not to reach between rows, kick the seat in front of them, or otherwise distract from anyone else’s concert experience.
  • The Concert Hall acoustics provide an opportunity to remind students to remain quiet during the performance—and to demonstrate how sound travels from musicians to audience.

During the performance:

  • Students will know to clap hands and applaud the musicians when the conductor silences the orchestra and turns to acknowledge the audience.

The Concert Program

At the concert, students will hear the following works (tracks in bold are available in the media player):

  • Williams: Summon the Heroes (excerpt)
  • Strauss: Ein Heldenleben (excerpt)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, 2nd Movement, “Allegretto” (excerpt)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade, Mvt. II, (excerpt)
  • Walker: Lyric for Strings
  • Copland: “Fanfare for the Common Man”
  • Elgar: Enigma Variations, “Nimrod”
  • Williams: Superman March
  • Copland: A Lincoln Portrait (excerpt)
  • Beethoven: Overture to Egmont (excerpt)



Doug Cooney
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Richard Paul
Audio Producer

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Music courtesy of Naxos America

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