Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Music Appreciation: William Tell Overture

Just as Maria Montessori advised, I like to teach the boys with a story nearly every day.  That is probably why I like Classic Tunes and Tales, the book that form the spine of our music appreciation work, so much.  It teaches 50 of the most famous classical pieces starting with a story.  

Note:  You can read my post on music appreciation here.  That post and all of my other music posts can be found under the "Montessori Music" tab up under my blog header.  

In addition to learning the story of William Tell and learning to recognize the William Tell Overture when they hear it, the boys also learned about Rossini, and the term "overture."  

I always go above and beyond what is in the book.  I don't always teach the same "concepts" that the book has linked to a particular piece.  I used the book in order when I taught school, but at home I introduce pieces and composers as the crop up in their violin lessons and in our everyday lives and so am extremely OUT of order.  This is how it so happens that we are doing the first piece in the book several years out.

Some of the Amazon review for this book were shockingly scathing.  Many teachers complained that it might be great for a couple of kids but terrible with a full classroom.  I don't know what the problem would be.  I used it successfully with full classrooms of 30 for years and am using it just as successfully at home.  Another complaint is that it doesn't come with a CD.   The cost of this product would go up considerably if it they had to get the rights professional recordings of 50 famous pieces to put on a CD.  Most music teachers would own recordings of all of these already and others can easily use YouTube.  

First we listened to and watched a video of the Milwaukee Symphony performing this piece.

Next, I told the story of William Tell. I used the version provided in CTT, but you can find several versions online.  

Then we learned the "lyrics" to the piece provided in Classic Tunes and Tales. The lyrics for each piece are the most important part of the book.  By singing special "lyrics" you learn to recognize a piece of music when you hear it out in the real world, remember what it is called, who wrote it, and some facts about it.  Here is a video of Kal-El singing the lyrics to the William Tell Overture.  I couldn't get him to sing it without laughing if he knew I was taking a video so I sneakily set the iPad on the piano, hence no real picture.  That day the boys had a fight whenever they sang it together, that's why I just have Kal-El.  Sigh.

The suggested hands-on activity for this piece was to act out the story.  When I taught in the classroom the kids LOVED this.  We had lots of villagers bowing to the hat, William Tell, William Tell's son, a narrator, the king, and the king's guards.  It was a little trickier to do at home with three actors, but we managed to make do with a king, William Tell, and William Tell's son.  We acted it out SEVERAL times taking turns at the different roles.

Kal-El is covering his face so that he doesn't take a suction-cup arrow to the eye.  Safety first.

The boys thought it was hilarious that we were  able to eat the famous apple afterward.

I don't often use the reproducible worksheets provided in CTT, but a sequencing work is provided for William Tell so we did that.

It isn't suggested in the book, but the next thing I like to teach is "Turkey in the Straw."   I like to use the first version from 1942.


If you celebrate Halloween and have the book "Moans and Groans and Skeleton Bones" there is a fun  version of this song called "Witches Brew." 

I like to teach Turkey in the Straw at this point so that the kids can enjoy Disney's The Band Concert.  Mickey's orchestra is performing the music to William Tell and Donald Duck keeps twisting the Overture into "Turkey in the Straw" on his piccolo.  The whole cartoon is hilarious but the musical joke is only funny if you know both tunes and can distinguish when they are changing.


We will wrap things up by watching the movie Rossini's Ghost.  We'll watch it again when we learn The Barber of Seville.  It isn't really about a ghost if you are wondering about appropriateness.  This movie is part of a whole series about famous composers.  I find the whole series wonderfully done and very family-friendly.


  1. This is incredible! I love the musical expertise you bring to Montessori homeschooling. My son is just 3 years old so I'm following your blog WAY at the beginning but I'm looking forward to the day I get to implement some of these ideas. :)

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Michelle. We had soo much fun. I hope you remember to come back and do those things when your son is a little older!

  2. You are amazing! I've been following your blog for a couple of years now, particularly the work you do with "Me-Too". He's the same age as my 7 year old girl. The work that you are doing with your boys are just phenomenal. They are learning soooo much! I tried homeschooling my kids for a while, but, it was so much stress on me (I'm so impatient, with no Montessori background or teaching). In the end, I gave up and sent my kids to a Montessori School. We've been there almost 2 years now. My 7 year old girl is thriving, however, my 5 year old boy is not. Every time I ask him, what did you do today at school, he said: "brown stairs". Aarrgh! He can't read, he can't write! I did do some Montessori work with my oldest girl at home (when I was homeschooling), so, she's ahead. But, with my 5 year old, I left it to the system (the school). He is sooo behind! I know Montessori is supposed to be child led, but, at 5 years old, I think the teacher needs to lead the child to progress further. I can see Montessori working well in a home school environment, where you have 1 teacher that is focused on 1-2 kids. However, at school, there are 24 kids. I've seen the work you did with Me-Too when he was 5! We are no where near there, no where. I'm paying top-fees too, haha :). Anyway... enough ranting. Just want to say that you are doing an AMAZING job. I take my hat off to you. It's not easy, juggling being a mum, doing all the housework, preparing all the material and being a teacher to your boys... You are incredible! Your boys are lucky to have you and they will thank you one day. Cheers :)

    1. Anon,

      Thank you SO much. You totally made my day. I'll remember that comment on days like yesterday when I am trying to help Me Too practice violin and think to myself "He would be so much better at this if he had a better mom." I needed that :)