A few years back my brother Daniel Sailor was approached by U.S. Games Systems to produce a game focusing on classical music composers, based on the historically popular Authors card game, played by many children through the 20th century and into the 1960s (mentioned in the Louisa May Alcott novel “Little Women”).
He was excited to take on this project and wanted to contribute something to encouraging an interest in classical music by involving students in learning about the composers and their famous works.
A pianist and classical music lover himself, Dan pictured piano students playing this game. “So my first focus went to piano pieces, then also including other instrumental and vocal pieces that I felt were significant works.” he said. Every note of music, rests, staccatos and other symbols was meticulously and thoughtfully considered. “It was very painstaking but I enjoyed the process.”
Although the composers are in chronological order, Daniel was able to configure playful elements into the structure of the game and hopes players have fun things seeking out these musical “jokes” (or “scherzi”).
Bach was given the honor of being the ACE. Notice how the A Minor Prelude spells out the notes ACE in its theme. It was important that Beethoven be the number 5 card so that he could make the association with the famous 5th Symphony. Similarly, he planned Tchaikovsky to be the Queen so that the “Queen of Spades” opera could be represented on the appropriate card. The deck ends with Grieg and the “Hall of the Mountain KING”. Oh by the way, most of the HEARTS are love themes.
This summer, Ravinia Music Festival in Highland Park, Illinois has chosen to feature the Composers Game in their gift shop as a way of encouraging classical music among patrons, and will be issuing a significant number to concert attendees at selected CSO concerts this summer. “It is my hope that as people play the game it will add to their understanding and enjoyment of classical music.” says Daniel.
Playing the Game
The game includes 13 composers from Bach to Grieg in chronological order. There are four cards for each composer, with a different famous work on each card. Also on each card is the theme of the work represented in musical notation, as well as a portrait of the composer, and the names of the other three works by that composer. Biographical information is also laced throughout the cards.
As the game is set up just like a regular deck of cards, with numbers and suits and royal cards, they can be used for any card game, should the need arise, but why just play hearts when you can have fun with music as well?
The object of the game is to acquire complete sets of 4 works by the composers by asking opponents for the specific work by a specific composer. Whoever has the most complete sets at the end of the game wins. The object from a teacher’s point of view, of course, is to familiarize students with 13 classical and romantic composers and to become enamored of the beautiful pieces of music represented and want to be more involved with classical music.
As a group piano teacher, I always have a ready group of students who beg to play the game. Colleagues have told me their students look forward to it as a waiting room activity. Parents and students also find it to be a great family game for weekend or vacation fun.
Here are some aspects I have discovered from playing with my students.
Students will be excited to recognize popular pieces they may already be familiar with, such as Ode to Joy, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, In The Hall of the Mountain King, March from the Nutcracker Suite, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
What is really nice about the game is that just by playing a fun game students develop a familiarity with composers (including how to pronounce their names correctly), their works and their relative place in the classical composer history. If you remember that Bach is the ACE, Beethoven is the 5th and Grieg is the KING you can easily see that Bach is oldest, Grieg the most recent and Beethoven falls between them. Students tell me that playing the game has helped them know the answers to musical questions on SAT/ACT tests, spelling bees and academic bowls.
Ideas for playing:
For younger students, play the game as a “go fish” game. Students ask for and collect pairs of two of a composer. Each takes a turn asking a specific player for a specific composer (one they already have one of in their hand). If they have it, they give it up. Student lays down the pair of two, face up. If they don’t have it the student has to “go fish” or “go composer” by picking one card from the center deck.
Then the play moves on to the next player. When someone goes out of cards, (or perhaps when you run out of budgeted time, if you are teaching in a class,) the game is over. The person with the most pairs is the winner.
Hint: Help students learn the correct pronunciations of composers and works by modeling the correct pronunciation. Be sure students ask for the composer, not just the number on the card. Have “bonus” cards be songs which students play or are familiar with.
For expanded learning:
Have students look up the works presented on You Tube to experience a full version of the work. Perhaps assign a different composer per week for a period of 13 weeks. Use the biographical information at the top of the cards as an offshoot for further study about the composers.
Let me know how you use the game!
Available through Lake Shore Music Studio at http://www.renoweb.net/rlam/Music%20Shoppe/HTML/composercards.htm#, www.amazon.com and Ravinia Gift Shop, Highland Park, IL www.Ravinia.org