Childproof Language (Part 2)

Posted by Adrian Anantawan on Thursday, July 21, 2011

Childproof Language (Part 2)

Above: the CODA kids pretending to be much younger kids

Initially, Bryan and I had more than a few trepidations about the translation activity. The Gershwin letter was meant to be a fun way to introduce the CODA Program to them, and was sent a month prior to their arrival in Ottawa. What if they were all very quiet, shy kids? What if they didn't find the translation activity interesting? At the 2011 SMI, all the pre-college kids had a chance to play three pieces of chamber music: a Romantic piece, Shostakovitch's Eighth String Quartet, and a Haydn Quartet. We figured that we would find a scholarly article on one of these pieces, and use it to send to everybody for translation. As we deliberated on which piece to use as a template, we ran into a few issues:

  1. Everybody was playing a different Romantic piece, ranging from the Schumann Quintet to Kodaly's Kreutzer Sonata. Finding an article relevant to all the chamber groups would be difficult
  2. Shostakovitch wrote his string quartet in memory of the Holocaust, and while valuable as an educative tool, it may be a little too intense for a six year-old
  3. Every group was playing a different Haydn Quartet, and finding six different scholarly articles on each of them would be time consuming  

After a little scouring, we came across the perfect article, about the formation of the first string quartet, courtesy of Wikipedia:

"The string quartet arose to prominence with the work of Joseph Haydn. Haydn's own discovery of the quartet form appears to have arisen essentially by accident. The young composer was working for Baron Carl von Joseph Edler von Fürnberg sometime around 1755-1757 at his country estate in Weinzierl, about fifty miles from Vienna. The Baron wanted to hear music, and the available players happened to be two violinists, a violist, and a cellist. Haydn's early biographer Georg August Griesinger tells the story thus:

The following purely chance circumstance had led him to try his luck at the composition of quartets. A Baron Fürnberg had a place in Weinzierl, several stages from Vienna, and he invited from time to time his pastor, his manager, Haydn, and Albrechtsberger (a brother of the celebrated contrapuntist Albrechtsberger) in order to have a little music. Fürnberg requested Haydn to compose something that could be performed by these four amateurs. Haydn, then eighteen years old, took up this proposal, and so originated his first quartet which, immediately it appeared, received such general approval that Haydn took courage to work further in this form.

Ever since Haydn's day the string quartet has been prestigious and considered a true test of the composer's art. This may be partly because the palette of sound is more restricted than with orchestral music, forcing the music to stand more on its own rather than relying on tonal color; or from the inherently contrapuntal tendency in music written for four equal instruments."

Honestly, I learned something through this research, and it goes to show that we learn as much as our students when we teach! In any case, we had some great submissions for our first workshop, and realized that the CODA kids were probably more creative than us. Here's a translation of the above article, by thirteen year-old Anita Pari:

Goldilocks and the First String Quartet

A long time ago, in a land faraway, there lived a man named Joseph Haydn. Joseph loved to write beautiful pieces of music and, because of that, he was called a composer. He was one of the most famous composers of his time.

One day, when Joseph was 18, he went to visit his friend Baron Carl von Joseph Edler von Furnberg,  who preferred to be called Baron Carl since he had such an incredibly long name. Baron Carl really liked the pieces Joseph composed.

Do you know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Well, Baron Carl was actually Father Bear. As Joseph was walking through the woods on his way to Baron Carl's house, he heard crying sounds. He followed his ears until he spotted Goldilocks who was sitting on a tree stump and crying. Joseph asked her:

"Why are you crying, Goldilocks?"

"Because I wasn't nice to poor little Baby Bear from the bear family. I ate up all of his porridge and I broke his little chair... Father Bear looked really mad," said Goldilocks.

"Don't worry, I know Father Bear very well. He's a nice bear! I'm actually going to see him right now. Do you want to come along with me? Maybe you could tell them you're sorry," suggested Joseph.

"Oh yes!" exclaimed Goldilocks.

So the two of them continued to Baron Carl's house together. Goldilocks apologized to Baby Bear and his parents and they were all very happy that she had learned from her mistakes so quickly. Mother Bear invited Goldilocks and Joseph to dinner. After they had finished eating a delicious meal, Baron Carl asked:

"Joseph, to celebrate this wonderful evening together, would you like to compose a piece of music for us to play?"

"I'd love to!" replied Joseph.

"Then let me go and get my instruments," said Baron Carl excitedly.

Baron Carl went to get the instruments he had in his house. He found two little instruments with high-pitched voices that would be just perfect for Baby Bear and Goldilocks. They were called violins and they are still played nowadays. A violin has four strings, each of which is tuned to a different note. The violin is played with a bow, which is a thin stick with horse hair tightly strung between its two ends. When the bow is moved across the strings, it makes a beautiful sound. Then he found a middle-sized instrument with a middle voice that would be just perfect for Mother Bear. This instrument is called a viola and it looks like a big violin. Finally, he found a really big instrument with a deep voice that would be just perfect for himself. It is called a cello and it looks like a gigantic violin.

Joseph was very happy and quickly composed a beautiful piece for the four of them. Because Goldilocks and the bear family were good musicians, they learned the piece very fast. Goldilocks and the bear family loved the piece and played it beautifully.

Do you know the word "quartet"? It means a group of four instruments. Because Joseph's piece was for four instruments which made sounds with strings, this group of instruments is called as a string quartet. Joseph was the first person to compose a string quartet. Later on, Joseph wrote many other pieces for the same group of four instruments because they made such a wonderful sound together.

Since Joseph's time, the string quartet has become one of the most popular groups of instruments for which music is composed. Composers liked Joseph's idea so much that many of them wrote string quartets of their own. But the ones that Joseph Haydn wrote will always be remembered because they are very beautiful and imaginative.

The End


Anita's story is one of those miracle stories we have in education, where these acts of creativity fall right on our laps, and makes our jobs so much easier. Goldilocks and the First String Quartet became the base of our introduction story at Hawthorne Elementary and the Bronson Centre, where we set the text to music. The audiences loved it, and it was a amazing to see the enthusiasm of our CODA kids in this simple activity.

Tags: translation  goldilocks  haydn 

The CODA Project

Created in 2010 by myself and colleague Bryan Wagorn, the Community Outreach for Developing Artists (CODA) program was implemented June 2011 at the National Arts Centre (NAC) Summer Music Institute (SMI), founded by Isreali violinist Pinchas Zukerman.