A World of Music

A trip through the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations


The Basics

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 download it (use the Down-Arrow in the lower right side of the player) and load it onto your computer or mobile device to view anytime.

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We’re off on a Musical Tour of Europe

Hundreds of years ago, the world was introduced to the orchestra. It was love at first sound. Everyone was captivated by the never-before-heard sounds of some 20 to 100 musicians playing together. Before the orchestra, classical music was for groups of three (trios) or four (quartets)—tops! The invention of this much bigger musical group meant bigger musical possibilities, and the world’s imagination went wild. Composers all across Europe were inspired to try their hand at creating symphonies for the orchestra and pushing classical music to new limits.

Composers, Orchestras, and Music!

Who are composers? Composers are people who write or “compose” music. Composers get musical ideas come from many sources. Some composers create music that captures a specific time or place. Others are inspired by an emotion—or they might want to tell a story or paint a picture with music.

The Composer’s Toolbox

Every composer uses basic tools to write music. One is pitch (high notes and low notes). Another is rhythm (long notes and short notes.) Once you mix the high and low notes with the long and short notes, you’ve written a melody!

Some other tools in a composer’s toolbox are tempo, major and minor keys, and dynamics. Composers might also adjust the speed at which the music is played using tools with Italian names, like andante for “slow,” allegro for “fast” and accelerando, meaning to accelerate or “get faster.” Through our Listening Activities (above), you’ll learn more about these tools while you hear the music of composers from many different countries across Europe. Listen carefully and you’re sure to hear the international language of music.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart (1756-91) was a child prodigy—someone with extraordinary ability or talent at a young age. He could play the piano beautifully when he was only four years old and completed his first symphony at age eight!

All About Melody

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (pronounced MO-tzart) was an ambitious young composer who wanted to write music like no one else in the world. He did it by writing music that was perfectly constructed—and by capturing his own playful personality in the melodies.

The Composer's Toolbox

When composers work with pitch, they have many notes to choose from: 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, hop, scoop, wiggle, or drop to get from one note to another.

The Composer's Challenge

Mozart challenged himself to write music that sounded different from anything that came before it. He selected his notes very carefully, and he chose how to get from one note to another even more carefully. Go to the “Woofers and Tweeters” Listening Activity (above) that introduces Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and listen for how Mozart uses high notes, low notes, and all the notes in-between.

Listen to the Music:

When you are done with the Listening Activity (above), listen to just the music (below):


Edvard Grieg

Raised in a musical home, Grieg (1843–1907) was “discovered” when he was 15 years old by a famous violinist who persuaded his family to send him to music school.

Oh, No! Trolls!

Edvard Grieg (GREEG) wanted his music to sound like all his favorite Norwegian folk tunes and dances. His most famous work tells the story of a folk hero named “Peer Gynt” (ghint). Peer is a mischievous boy whose adventures include an attempt to steal a princess from a mountain filled with trolls.

The Composer’s Toolbox

Composers decide on the rhythm of their melodies by combining long notes and short notes into patterns. Rhythms happen at the same time as the steady beat. (You can clap along to the steady beat!) Sometimes they match, and sometimes they don’t. The tempo refers to the speed at which the music is played. Some songs are played quickly. Some are played very slowly. And some get faster all the time.

The Composer’s Challenge

Grieg’s challenge was to write music that told a clear story without using any words. Grieg used rhythm to help tell the story of Peer Gynt tiptoeing through the mountain and being chased by trolls. Jump to the "Norway" Listening Activity (above) that introduces Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and listen carefully to hear how rhythm, steady beat, and tempo help to tell the young boy’s story.

Listen to the Music:

When you are done with the Listening Activity (above), listen to just the music (below):


Benjamin Britten

Britten (1913–76) was another child prodigy who played the piano and viola and composed music when he was only five years old.

The Saddest Tune

Everyone knows what it feels like to be sad, but what if you wanted to write music that expressed emotions without using words? Benjamin Britten’s “Sentimental Saraband” from his Simple Symphony, is based on melodies sketched in his childhood notebooks.

The Composer’s Toolbox

Another tool in the composer’s toolbox is mood. Britten wrote his melody in a minor key. Songs in a major key sound bright, hopeful, and happy. Music composed in a minor key can sound dark, sad, and even scary sometimes.

The Composer’s Challenge

Britten wanted to compose music that expressed emotion without using words. The Listening Activity (above) asks you to compare the sound of familiar melodies in a major key and a minor key. Then, you’ll listen to Britten’s “sad tune” and try to identify what makes it seem sad. Is it only the minor key? What instruments did he choose for his melody? How did he use the other tools in his composer’s toolbox?

Listen to the Music:

When you are done with the Listening Activity (above), listen to just the music (below):


Dmitri Shostakovich

Shostakovich (1906–75) began piano lessons when he was eight years old and entered music school at age 13.

Pictures of War

Dmitri Shostakovich (duh-MEE-tree Shaw-stuh-KOH-vitch) used his music to paint a picture of his war-torn homeland. As a boy, Shostakovich watched as rulers fought for control of Russia. His Symphony No. 10 recalls his memories of the tanks and soldiers he saw in the streets of his homeland, and the determination of the Russian people to find freedom.

The Composer’s Toolbox

One more tool in the composer’s toolbox is dynamics, where the composer tells the musicians how loudly or softly to play the music. Small changes and big, sudden changes can be very effective. Shostakovich liked to go from loud to even louder, and from very loud to incredibly quiet. This helps make his music very exciting for the audience.

The Composer’s Challenge

Shostakovich's challenge was to compose music that sounded as if you were living through a war. Make sure you watch your ears when you go to the Listening Activity (above). Examine what happens when sound changes its dynamic from soft to loud--and from loud to louder--while listening to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

Listen to the Music:

When you are done with the Listening Activity (above), listen to just the music (below):

For the Educator

Students (and their teachers!) will get more out of the NSO Young People’s Concert when they are prepared for the A World of Music program in advance. Here are some tips for using these resources:

Using the Listening Activities

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 CD. We suggest this approach to 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 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.

The activities presented here connect to the National Content Standards for music, and other subject areas such as social studies and language arts. Click here for more about the standards.

Introduction (9:45)


Students are introduced to the international language of classical music by the National Symphony Orchestra’s new Assistant Conductor, Ankush Kumar Bahl.

During the concert, students learn about the basic tools used by composers and travel to the homelands of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edvard Grieg, Benjamin Britten, and Dmitri Shostakovich. In Austria, students discover Mozart’s playful personality. They hear about Grieg’s fascination with a famous folktale in Norway. Traveling on, students visit England and learn about Britten’s choice to write music that expresses emotion. Students then tour Russia, as they witness the hardships of wartime through Shostakovich’s music.

Listening to… Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 (3:47)


Students learn about Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his use of pitch and intervals.


Direct students to the Austria tab. Read with students how Mozart used high notes, low notes, and everything in between to create his melodies.


While playing these tracks, connect students to the “Woofers and Tweeters” activity introduced in the Austria tab, which provides a gestural exercise for students to perform as they listen to Mozart’s use of pitch. This exercise reinforces lessons in pitch and intervals contained in the activity.


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

Listening to… Grieg’s Peer Gynt (5:46)


Students learn about composer Edvard Grieg and how he used rhythm and tempo to capture the folk stories of his native Norway.


Direct students to the Norway tab. Read with students about a composer’s use of rhythm, steady beat, and tempo to create catchy melodies.


While playing these tracks, connect students to the definition of accelerando introduced on the Norway tab, which provides a context for the increasing tempo as they listen to Grieg’s work.


Encourage students to share their understanding of steady beat, rhythm, and tempo. Do students think Peer Gynt escaped the trolls or did they catch him?

Listening to… Britten’s Simple Symphony (5:03)


Students learn about British composer Benjamin Britten and how he used a minor key to express emotion and deep feelings in his music.


Direct students to the England tab. Prior to listening, remind students of the difference between a major and a minor key. Explain that a minor key can make the music sound sad, strange, dramatic, or mysterious. Please note that the concept of major and minor keys has been simplified for basic classroom demonstration.


Listen to the composer’s tools being used in Britten’s “Sentimental Saraband.” Have students identify the choices Britten made in his pitch and tempo, as well as use of the minor key, to express emotion.


Lead a brief discussion allowing students to identify what made Britten’s “sad tune” seem sad. Did he choose “sad” instruments? A “sad” tempo? Was the music always sad, or did it “cheer up”?

Listening to… Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (5:30)


Students learn how Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich used musical dynamics to convey the imagery of war.


Direct students to the Russia tab. Prior to listening, remind students that musical dynamics refer to the loudness or softness of the music. Discuss how sudden shifts in volume, from soft to loud, loud to louder, and louder to softer, provide dramatic tools for the composer.


Listen for the sounds of war in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. Ask students to identify specific images with musical fragments. Have them consider the musical choices Shostakovich made in terms of pitch, rhythm, steady beat, minor keys, and dynamics.


Lead a short reflection. Encourage students to describe what they “saw” and heard. Discuss the tools Shostakovich used to create mood in the work.

Assessment (3:45)


Students will recap the learning from the Listening Activities.


Explain to students that they will revisit the composers and destinations from the activities. Remind students of the basics that serve as clues to identify the music. The composer’s tools are identified as: pitch, rhythm, steady beat, tempo, minor key, and dynamics.


Play the Listening Game. Students are asked to identify the works based on listening to excerpts of the works by Mozart, Grieg, Britten, and Shostakovich.


If time allows, ask winners to share specific “clues” that helped them to identify the music. It might have been the “story” or the subject of the music. It might have been the composer’s tools. Give bonus points if students use Italian words like accelerando, allegro, andante, or subito. The correct answers are: (1) Grieg, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”; (2) Britten’s “Sentimental Saraband”; (3) Mozart’s Symphony No. 29; and (4) Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.

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:

  • Bernstein - Fanfare for the Inauguration of JFK
  • Mozart - -First Movement from Symphony No. 29 in A major, K 201 (excerpt)
  • Smetana - The Moldau (excerpt)
  • Bartok - Rumanian Dances, Nos. 1, 5, 6, and 7
  • Shostakovich - Allegro from Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
  • Britten - “Sentimental Saraband” from Simple Symphony, Op. 4
  • Grieg - “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, Op. 23
  • Falla - Spanish Dance from La vida breve
  • Debussy - Claire de Lune (excerpt)
  • Rossini - Overture to William Tell (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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