Alison Geesey
Music Educator & Choral Conductor

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UNIT PLAN - SECONDARY CHORAL MUSIC

As a requirement for my student teaching experience, I had to create a unit plan for my emphasis, secondary choral music.  Since there are no real "units" in high school choir (as repertoire is the curriculum), I decided to choose one of the pieces I was teaching and create a three lesson "unit" on the items I focused on while teaching it.  This unit focuses on Randall Thompson's "Choose Something Like A Star" from Frostiana.  Though there are only three lessons here, one lesson would most likely be spread out over several school periods due to time restraints.  Additionally, I taught this piece to Master Singers, an advanced, auditioned choir consisting of grades ten through twelve.  Due to their advanced musicianship skills, they were able to sightread this piece in my very first lesson, something that may need to be adapted for less advanced choirs; at times I had to stop to teach individual parts, but I did not include such activities in my lesson plans as their occurrence is somewhat implied.  Despite the ease of learning for the notes and rhythms in this piece, the challenge lies not in the musical elements but in the relation of music to Frost's poetry.


As I reflect, I realize that teaching this piece was immensely rewarding for both my students and for me as a teacher and conductor.  This piece holds a very special place in my heart, and now my deep understanding and relationship with "Choose Something..." and Frostiana has been instilled in my students.  Though the role of the text in this piece is rather advanced, the comprehension of the poem provided an appropriate and gratifying challenge to my students that proved to be worthwhile.


Below is my unit plan for this piece, complete with National Standards for Music Education, as well as Pennsylvania Standards for the Arts and Humanities.  Beneath my lesson plan is a recording of this piece as performed at the Master Singers spring concert on April 30th, 2014 in State College Area High School North Auditorium.
"Miss Geesey is an incredible teacher and vocal model.  Not only is she talented, but she is a wonderful person.  Personable and greatly gifted, I enjoyed her time conducting immensely."
-10th Grade Student in Sophomore Choir and Master Singers


"Miss Geesey is goofy, organized, and incredibly talented.  I can't wait to see what's in store for her!"
-11th Grade Student in Master Singers


"Miss Geesey isn't just an amazing teacher but a delightful human being as well!  She knows how to teach on a personal level that works perfectly.  Her presence is always joyful and silly!  She will do great things!"
-11th Grade Student in Master Singers
 

Instructor: Alison Geesey

Unit: Randall Thompson’s “Choose Something Like A Star”

Class/Group/Grade Level: State High Master Singers (Advanced Choir, Grades 10-12)

 

Unit Goals:

  • Final performance of Randall Thompson's "Choose Something Like A Star" at the April concert
  • Understanding of basic background information on Randall Thompson, Frostiana, and Robert Frost.
  • Knowledge of the poetry from Frostiana, with a specific focus on "Choose Something Like A Star."
  • Comprehension of the intertwining relationship between the text of "Choose Something Like A Star" and Randall Thompson's music for the poem.

 

Student Objectives:

  • Students will be able to perform "Choose Something Like A Star" with appropriate musical inflection and understanding of poetic text.
  • Students will be able to provide basic background information on Randall Thompson, Frostiana, and Robert Frost.
  • Students will be able to provide a poetic understanding of the poetry from Frostiana, with a specific focus on "Choose Something Like A Star."
  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the intertwining relationship between the text of "Choose Something Like A Star" and Randall Thompson's music for the poem.


Teacher Techniques and Strategies:

  • Teacher will lead students in a discussion of what they already know about Randall Thompson, Robert Frost, and Frostiana; teacher will then present and discuss information that was not brought up.
  • Teacher will lead students in a discussion about the poetry of Frostiana, briefly touching on the other poetry (as this profoundly impacts the understanding of "Choose Something Like A Star," which is the seventh and final movement), with a primary focus on "Choose Something Like A Star."
  • Teacher will split the piece into three main sections, devoting time from three separate rehearsals (approximately ten to fifteen minutes of rehearsal time) to focus on the musicality and text from whatever section is being worked on.
  • Throughout the rehearsal process, the teacher will ask students the meaning behind certain lines of text and behind the poem/piece as a whole to check for comprehension and understanding.
  • Teacher will focus specifically on her conducting gesture and having students interact and watch her closely when performing, as this helps to foster the musical understanding and performance of the students.


Assessment Tools and Standards

  • Teacher will question students about background information on Randall Thompson, Frostiana, and Robert Frost to assess their understanding of the background behind this piece.
  • Teacher will question students about specific lines of text from the poem as well as the overall meaning of the poem in order to assess the students' grasp of what they are singing about.
  • Teacher will listen for application of appropriate text stress and musicality in rehearsals and address this whenever it becomes an issue or is not present.
  • Teacher will utilize self-assessment whenever possible to engage students in the learning and assessment processes.


National Standards For Music Education Achieved:

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

5. Reading and notating music.

6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.

7. Evaluating music and music performances.

8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.

9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

 

Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Standards Achieved:

  • 9.1. Production, Performance and Exhibition of Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts
    • A. Know and use the elements and principles of each art form to create works in the arts and humanities.
    • B. Recognize, know, use and demonstrate a variety of appropriate arts elements and principles to produce, review and revise original works in the arts.
    • C. Integrate and apply advanced vocabulary to the arts forms.
    • E. Delineate a unifying theme through the production of a work of art that reflects skills in media processes and techniques.
    • F. Analyze works of arts influenced by experiences or historical and cultural events through production, performance or exhibition.
  • 9.2 Historical and Cultural Contexts
    • A. Explain the historical, cultural and social context of an individual work in the arts.
    • B. Relate works in the arts chronologically to historical events.
    • D. Analyze a work of art from its historical and cultural perspective.
    • E. Analyze how historical events and culture impact forms, techniques and purposes of works in the arts
    • F. Know and apply appropriate vocabulary used between social studies and the arts and humanities.
    • G. Relate works in the arts to geographic regions: North America.
    • I. Identify, explain and analyze philosophical beliefs as they relate to works in the arts
    • J. Identify, explain and analyze historical and cultural differences as they relate to works in the arts
    • K. Identify, explain and analyze traditions as they relate to works in the arts
    • L. Identify, explain and analyze common themes, forms and techniques from works in the arts
  • 9.3 Critical Response
    • A. Explain and apply the critical examination processes of works in the arts and humanities: compare and contrast, analyze, interpret, form and test hypotheses, and evaluate/form judgments.
    • B. Determine and apply criteria to a person’s work and works of others in the arts
    • E. Examine and evaluate various types of critical analysis of works in the arts and humanities: contextual criticism, formal criticism, and intuitive criticism.
    • F. Analyze the processes of criticism used to compare the meanings of a work in the arts in both its own and present time.
  • 9.4 Aesthetic Response
    • A. Evaluate an individual’s philosophical statement on a work in the arts and its relationship to one’s own life based on knowledge and experience.
    • B. Describe and analyze the effects that works in the arts have on groups, individuals and the culture
    • C. Compare and contrast the attributes of various audiences’ environments as they influence individual aesthetic response
    • D. Analyze and interpret a philosophical position identified in works in the arts and humanities.

 

Materials Needed:

Music selections: Randall Thompson’s “Choose Something Like A Star”

Other materials: Laptop to play recording, mp3 recording (teacher’s own), speakers to play recording

Equipment: Piano

 

Lesson 1:

  • Introduction
    • Play Recording (by Frostiana Singers at Penn State, 2013)
      • Teacher will provide a brief introduction of the piece before playing the recording
        • Frostiana – set of 7 pieces, text from 7 Frost poems
        • “Choose…” is the 7th of these pieces
        • Randall Thompson – American choral composer, 1899-1984
          • What other pieces do you know? (“Alleluia”)
      • Teacher will play the recording and have students follow along with their music; teacher will guide students and foreshadow the discussion to occur after this guided listening
    • Discuss Text
      • Teacher will lead students through a reflective, guided discussion
      • Explain this is the latest Frost poem to be included in this set.
      • Have one student read the poem out loud (as typed in the inside cover).
      • Discuss reference to Keats’ Eremite (archaic word for hermit)
        • Keats’ Poem = call to a star in adoration of its steadfastness
          • "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art—Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night And watching, with eternal lids apart, Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite, The moving waters at their priestlike task Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores, Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, To feel for ever in a sweet unrest, Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, And so live ever—or else swoon to death."
        • It has always stayed; communicates desire for constancy, which is apparent throughout Frost’s poetry
        • Fear of choice, shying away from present circumstances, and a desperation for guidance; we just want to get out of the deep, dark woods, and find a truth
      • Frost’s Poem (in comparison to Keats’)
        • “Something” – ambiguous, heightens the speaker’s desperation for guidance; no specific request, just “something!!”
        • “Steadfast” – “to be fixed or secure in position, to be unshaken, immovable” – direct opposite of the ambiguity of “something”
      • What does the star actually say? “I burn.”
        • No scientific explanation with farenheit or centigrade (Science measures height, but it can never measure worth – Thompson distrusted it); language we cannot “comprehend”
        • To burn: to literally take the scientific elements of the past and burn to ensure the rest of the star’s life; combine the past with the future in the instantaneous present – so burning becomes a symbol of guidance
        • When the mob is swayed, what you can do and should do, is burn
    • Discuss Musical Elements/Recording
      • Teacher will lead students through a reflective, guided discussion
      • What adjectives would you use to describe this piece; what musical adjectives/descriptive words would you use?
      • What to listen for?
        • Musical ascension towards the star (RH piano, overall vocal ascension)
        • Steadfastness (LH piano, repetitive soprano line)
      • The role of “Choose Something…” as the finale/conclusion of Frostiana
        • From Frost’s poem, “A Question” – A voice said, Look me in the stars And tell me truly, men of earth, If all the soul-and-body scars Were not too much to pay for birth
          • Essentially: Is life worth living?
      • We may never understand life, and we’ll never control it.  But we can burn and choose something even better than a star, because we can burn with each other
        • Is it all worth it…?  Absolutely.  And we need to show that when we perform this together.
    • First Read of “Choose Something…” (Note: This choir was at such an advanced level that sight reading the piece was not too difficult for them; the main challenge of this piece was understanding the text and conveying even the smallest details in their final performance.  The teaching of this piece could be adapted depending on the reading/singing level of the choir.)
      • Teacher will lead students through their first reading of the piece, with piano accompaniment; teacher can stop as needed if students need to restart or hear their parts.
    • Closure
      • What do you like about this piece so far?  What is your impression after our first read through?

 

Lesson 2:

  • Introduction
    • Briefly discuss the in-depth discussion from the previous lesson
      • What is the message behind this piece?  What are some musical elements we want to remember to highlight, and what is there significance?
  • Text Stress/Highlighted Words in Section 1 (mm.1-28)
    • Teacher instructs students to look at this section and decide which words are the most important; how do we know? (Thompson marks them with tenutos)
    • Teacher asks students what they should do on lengthier notes (half notes or longer)
      • They can grow, diminish, or both, but they cannot remain at one dynamic level
      • This allows students to make their own musical decision in the creation of their interpretation of this piece.
  • Musicality in Section 2 (mm.29-60)
    • Teacher asks students to find the biggest/most dramatic measure(s) of this section (Answer: mm. 41-49)
      • How can we emphasize this besides a full dynamic? (consonants, accents as marked, shadow vowels on the ends of phrases/words)
      • Teacher works this section, utilizing everything mentioned above, paying special attention to the word “something” (as the word “something” and its importance in the poem was discussed in the previous lesson)
  • Musicality in Section 3 (mm.61-end)
    • Teacher asks students what they should do musically on the lengthier notes (half notes or longer) in the opening of this section and relates this to the opening of the piece
    • Teacher asks students to find the biggest/most dramatic measure(s) in section (Answer: mm.79-81)
    • Teacher highlights Thompson’s continued use of markings (tenutos, crecescendos/decrescendos, accents, dynamics) throughout this section, in addition to the entire piece
      • Teacher mentions this is common of Thompson and his writing style.
  • Closure
    • Teacher congratulates students on their progress thus far!

 

Lesson 3:

  • Introduction
    • Teacher reminds students of the hard work they’ve put into the piece so far and how close they are to the final performance.
  • Final Discussion of the Piece
    • Teacher asks students to highlight things they think are important about the background of the piece and how they should affect their performance
    • Teacher briefly provides students with an overview of the relation of “Choose Something” to the first 6 movements of Frostiana, as outlined below in a negative then positive outlook of each movement in order:
      • Paralyzed by the choice between the two roads in “The Road Not Taken”
        • Despite the diverging paths, the woods are still yellow
      • Bogged down with the pasture springs to clean and the little calves to fetch in “The Pasture”
        • Watching the water clear with you is all we need to make the chores more doable
      • We hear the thrush calling, but we just can’t bring ourselves to enter the woods in “Come In”
        • We might turn from the woods, but we still have the stars
      • We close off from relationships between communication is so terribly difficult in “The Telephone”
        • Yes we argue and fight, but the price of love isn’t lost and we still pay
      • We make childish mistakes, and sometimes we don’t learn from them, in “A Girl’s Garden”
        • Maybe going out to plant a garden is good enough
      • And we find ourselves trapped in woods that are dark and deep in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”
        • Yes we are trapped, but the woods are “lovely, dark and deep”
  • Final Performance
    • Teacher will lead students in a final performance (in-class, excluding the final performance on the concert), keeping in mind all of the background information and musical decisions they have made thus far; teacher may stop as needed to correct/emphasize/rework any sections.
  • Assessment
    • Teacher will have students self-reflect on their performance with three things that went well and three things that could improve in future performances.

 

Frostiana: 7. Choose Something Like A Star, Randall Thompson
State High Master Singers (Spring 2014 Concert)
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