Childproof Language (Part 1)

Posted by Adrian Anantawan on Thursday, July 21, 2011

Childproof Language (Part 1)

Above: the CODA kids in Workshop I

What is a translation, and in what forms does it take?

It's etymological roots are similar to that of transportation, literally meaning to "carry or bring across." I try not to get too bogged down into definitions, but I find when we apply a term like this through the lenses of music education and performance, these roots serve to clarify its origins, but also raise the key question: to carry across from where?

Only when we take a step backwards and see the word translation within a multifarious context, we recognize the bridges that unite seemingly disparate fields together.

For instance, the VMI Initiative, in its research guise, is essentially one of knowledge translation, a relatively new framework/iterative process that involves, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) the "synthesis, exchange, and application of knowledge by relevant stakeholders to accelerate the benefits of global and local innovation in strengthening health systems and improving people’s health." (2006)

In the CODA Project, we aimed to translate the rhetorical mileage that Bryan and I had accrued over the years of presenting classical music to children in schools. As teachers, we are not only purveyors of information, but also the vehicle of travel for our kids, bridging prior to acquired knowledge, and using pedagogical catalysts along the way. Again, the slight twist in our program was that the process that Bryan and I used to design our lesson plans was directly mirrored in what the CODA kids were trying to do themselves, albeit secondhand. Therefore, we had to make our activities as transparent as possible, in a sense that we routinely used our mistakes and successes as a launching point for discussion in our workshops.

Colin Funk, a facilitator from the Banff Centre, and one of our wonderful consultants for CODA, held a talk at the 2011 SMI on the qualities necessary to be an artistic leader to both the pre-college and college. One in particular tenant on leadership stood out to me, especially now that I'm writing in retrospect: modelling the way. The key word for me in this phrase is the word way, which again gets back to our word translation: the question is not only, "to carry across from where?" but "in which direction are we carrying them, and how?" Modelling the way, or leading by example, can thus be reiterated as teaching by example.

Translation, in its more prosaic form, deals with the communication of different languages, not only across cultures, but between age groups as well. Early in our preparation, Bryan and I created a translation activity for the kids, where they would read a scholarly article about the formation of the string quartet, with the instructions for them to create a version suited for a six year-old. This was no easy task, so we decided also to create our own example based on a performance we would have of the Gershwin Preludes at the National Arts Centre.

Three Preludes (Gershwin)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Three Preludes are short piano pieces by George Gershwin and were first performed by the composer at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1926. Each prelude is a well-known example of early 20th century American classical music, as influenced by jazz.

Gershwin originally planned to compose twenty-four preludes for this group of works. The number was reduced to seven in manuscript form, and then reduced to five in public performance, and further decreased to three when first published in 1926. Two of the remaining preludes not published were rearranged for solo violin and piano and published as Short Story. Of the other two, the publisher Wyatt had eliminated the Prelude in G because somewhat similar music had already appeared in Gershwin's Concerto in F. The other was excluded for unknown reasons.


There once was a man named George Gershwin, but most of his friends just called him George. Do you like writing stories? Well, George liked to write stories his entire life, but instead of using words like you or I, he wrote stories with musical notes. A short story made of musical notes is also called a prelude. One morning, in the year 1926, George got out of bed decided to write 24 Preludes.

Have you ever tried to write twenty-four short stories? It’s hard work! Imagine if you had to write twenty-four stories about, say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One story could be about how your mom accidently forgot to put them in your lunchbox last Saturday, or one about how the jelly doesn’t really come from a jellyfish. But twenty-four?!
So do you know what George did?

Instead of writing twenty-four okay preludes, he decided to write three amazingly great preludes!

1. Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

The first prelude, in B flat major, begins with a five-note blues motif; virtually all the melodic material in the piece is based on this theme. Syncopated rhythms based on the Brazilian baião and chords containing flattened sevenths occur throughout; these give the piece a strong jazz feel. Although these sounds are far from adventurous by modern standards, to the audiences of the late 1920s they were almost unheard of. Structurally, the piece is in ternary form; however, the impression on the listener is that of a fantasia. This effect is achieved by using snippets of various virtuoso techniques, such as repeated notes, octaves, scales, and crossed hands, each of which is used for only a moment before the piece catches a flicker of some new idea.

Have you ever had a friend arrive at your house to visit? If you were upstairs in your room, how would you know that he was at the door?

DING-DONG! That’s right, you hear the doorbell! In music terms, a musical doorbell is called a motif. Your doorbell probably has two notes: one named ding, and the other one named dong. George’s motif for the first prelude is five notes. You can hear this doorbell all over this piece of music, although sometimes he hides it in the music like a secret code!
Do you like to dance? Do you know the Macarena? George liked to write dance music, and he wrote something similar to the Macarena, called the Brazilian baião (ASIDE: if the class didn’t know either, we’d demonstrate these rhythms to them). As you probably know, people in the old days didn’t dance the Macarena (with their ball gowns and top hats), so when people heard George’s first prelude, his friends hadn’t heard anything like it!

As we mentioned before, a prelude is like a short story. So, if we were to tell a story about your day, what would happen? Let’s pretend that you call your bed the letter A, and you call your school the letter B. Make sense? If not, we drew a picture for you below.

Your story could go something like this: you woke up in your bed (A), spent the day in school (B), and went back to your bed (A) to sleep. In music talk, we call this type of story ABA form! Can you think of other examples of ABA form?
 How about a peanut butter sandwich: we take one slice of bread on the bottom (A), with some peanut butter in the middle (B), and one more slice of bread on top (A). In fact, you can call it an ABA sandwich! The cool thing about the ABA sandwich is that you can add whatever you’d like to it: bananas, raspberry or blueberry jelly, or even tomatoes if you’re in an odd mood. George adds lots of cool musical flavours to his first prelude, like repeated notes, octaves and scales (ASIDE: again, if we were speaking about this to a class, we’d demonstrate these techniques). However, they go by in a flash, so you’ll have to listen carefully!

Fig-1 ABA Form, although I’m sure your bed isn’t bigger than your school!

Fig-2 A tasty ABA Sandwich!


Part 2 of this entry will be the actual activity we presented to the CODA kids, along with one remarkable girl who created an amazing story about the formation of the string quartet!

Tags: translation  "gershwin preludes"  "aba sandwiches" 

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.