Beethoven’s Birthday – A December Holiday

Now available: An eResource to integrate Beethoven’s life and music into your classroom!  Everything you read about here in this post and more is fleshed out in detail including printable worksheets.  Celebrate Beethoven in the Classroom is available at The Inspired Classroom’s book store!  Download your copy today!

For those of you who may just be getting to know me as you read a post here and there, I guess it’s time you knew how much I love Beethoven.  It’s not just for his music, but for the person he was: full of integrity, passion, talent and character.  In fact,  in my family, it seems that Beethoven’s birthday is its own little holiday. No, we do not have a party or exchange gifts, but we do remember that on December 16th a most magnificent man, one who changed music forever, was born.

My grandfather was, to say the least, a fan of Beethoven’s music and life. He celebrated the man, finding in him a genius with such an amazing life’s story. It is this love and appreciation for Beethoven’s music that was passed down to my mother, uncle and, of course to me!

Now, as a teacher, I use Beethoven’s birthday to celebrate the holiday season in a new way.  All month we learn about the man and listen to his music. On his birth week, I integrate Beethoven into as many lessons as I can: from penmanship practice using Beethoven quotes and developing our understanding about fact and opinion using biographical articles about his life to practicing our math using Beethoven-based word problems. During the month we also focus on the virtue of perseverance – a virtue that Beethoven exemplified throughout his life.

And in the afternoon of his birthday, we have a low-key “holiday” party of hot cocoa and candy canes as we watch Beethoven Lives Upstairs.

Each year, my class enjoys this extra attention to a man whose music they know and love.  Their appreciation grows as they learn more and more about him.  Last year I was given a Beethoven plush toy to add to my collection of all things Beethoven.  That is now a classroom favorite as he is periodically passed around from student to student as a special treat (after a little squirt of hand sanitizer, of course!)

At the core of this integrated celebration is the music.  We actively listen to his music every day, taking one piece at a time.  I’ve embedded the playlist I use.  (I actually start the students listening to Beethoven in November.)  We listen to each piece, focusing on one per week.  We listen for patterns in the music, exciting beginnings and endings, rhythmic and melodic motifs, stories and action.  If a piece is too long, we listen to an excerpt.

The Minuet in G, Fur Elise and Thunderstorm can be heard in their entirety at every sitting.  However, we listen to the first few minutes of the other symphonic movements.  The fifth symphony can be heard fully by the end of the week and the listening experience can be enhanced by watching the Disney visual interpretation of it on fantasia 2000.  Both Fur Elise and The Fifth have alternative versions too.  These are great to listen to and use for discussions on interpretation and comparison.

For the Eroica, we listen to the first few minutes of the first movement for a few days and then move on to the second, third and fourth movements again listening to excerpts.  The book, The Heroic Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza is a wonderful accompaniment to the music as it tells the story behind the piece, explaining the meaning of each movement.  The fourth movement of the ninth symphony is a great way to end the study of Beethoven as it symbolizes Beethoven’s feelings of good will and triumph despite his tough life.   It is the piece that houses the infamous “Ode to Joy.”

For more on listening to music in the classroom, click here.

Students come every year knowing the name of Beethoven, but they leave with an appreciation for him and his music.  The time we spend learning about his life and works is something the students truly value and take with them for years.  I hope you are able to spend some time listening to the works of Beethoven with your students – any time of the year is a good time for that!

~EMP

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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6 Comments

  1. Musikmarc says:

    Loved the widget you embedded with them music to listen to!!! Would love to know how you did that. I follow you all the time on Twitter. Thank you for your inspiration and wisdom. Have a great holiday season.

  2. UNCLE G says:

    VERY WELL DONE, ELIZABETH. WHEN I HAVE A FEW MIN., I WILL LISTEN TO THE EXCERPTS YOU HAVE INCLUDED, I AM SURE WITH A NEW APPRECIATION, TO BE CERTAIN.

    LUV, YA.

    UNC

  3. Catherine Johnson says:

    Hi Eliza,

    Enjoyed reading your Beethoven article. Can you remember that your first Guild Audition Piece was Beethoven? You were only 7 but played it beautifully! I now take 2 composers per year who are celebrating a significant birthday and have most of my students play one of their pieces. This year (2011) we are celebrating Liszt’s 200th and Menotti’s 100th birthdays. I always love it when the little ones ask, “Are they still alive?”

    Keep up the good work!
    Catherine (Eliza’s fromer piano teacher)

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Musikmarc! I used Grooveshark for the widget. Isn’t it great? You can create an account and make playlists for anything and it is all “in the cloud.” Yes, the best part is you can share your playlists or individual songs using a widget. There are a lot of possibilities. I may do a post on the app soon. Happy listening!

    Uncle G! I am so happy that my students can share in our love of everything Beethoven. It always amazes me how much they get out of the day, week and month! It goes to show you that if you teach them, they get it! Classical music is for all ages.

    Catherine – I do remember my first Beethoven piece. I still have the book! I didn’t realize that you celebrate two composers’ birthdays each year. What a great idea! I’ll have to remember that Liszt’s big one is this coming year. 🙂

  5. It’s now available! The Beethoven eResource I’ve been wanting to compile for a while now… just in time for his 241st birthday! Please check it out at the Book Store. http://theinspiredclassroom.com/store/

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