Listening Lesson: 'Circling Back'

thumbnail circling back
Paola Galimberti/Unsplash

Age Range: All Ages, with modifications by age

Learning Objectives: Students will develop active listening skills through identification of musical elements. Students will respond to a piece of music by articulating a personal connection.

Free Download: Printable Lesson Plan with flashcards

ENGAGE students

SAY. “Today we’ll be listening to a piece of music titled Circling Back. It’s a duet for oboe and cello written by a Vietnamese-American composer named Viet Cuong (Vee-EHT Kwawng). As we watch the performance, we’ll be doing a scavenger hunt to notice six musical concepts.”

EXPLORE sounds

DEFINE. Define the following six terms. (For younger learners, consider choosing just three.) Use the sample language below as a starting point.

  • Silence: Moments in a piece of music where we don’t hear sound.

  • Arco: When a string player uses their bow on the string to make a sound.

  • Pizzicato: When a string player plucks a string with their finger to make a sound.

  • Trill: When a musician plays two alternating notes back and forth very quickly.

  • Cue: When musicians signal each other so they can start together, stop together, and stay together while they perform.

  • Harmonics: When a string player lightly touches the same string in two different spots at the same time, this creates a sound called harmonics. 

REVIEW. Use the provided flashcard printable to reinforce understanding. While holding up each word, model a movement to integrate kinesthetic learning and to help students remember. Sample movements:

  • Silence: Index finger to lips (“shhh” signal).

  • Arco: Pretend to hold a bow and make a bowing movement.

  • Pizzicato: Pretend to pluck strings.

  • Trill: Wiggle fingers quickly.

  • Cue: Big nod with eye contact.

  • Harmonics: Pretend to gently put two fingers down on the same string.

PREPARE. Tell students that their job is to notice the six musical concepts as they come up. Remind students that most of the features “circle back,” or happen again and again.

WATCH. Watch Circling Back performed by St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians Cassie Pilgrim and Sarah Lewis. Choose one of the two options to help students to notice each concept.

  • Option 1: Print each student their own set of flashcards to hold up while listening.

  • Option 2: Write the six words on cards displayed around the room and ask students to point at the concept as they happen in the piece.

REFLECT. “In his notes on this composition, the composer said, ‘The expression ‘circling back’ conjures images of a flight and the sense that we have been driven from our course but are now returning to the path we had charted, to the hopes and ideas we had to defer.’” Journal or discuss the following questions:

  • Can you think of an example in your own life when you got sidetracked and needed to circle back?

  • What elements of the music “circle back”?

  • If you composed a piece about the idea of circling back, how would it sound? Would you incorporate words or lyrics? Why or why not?

EXTEND learning

Choose one or more activities to extend learning.

  • Our oboe and cello lessons provide in-depth introductions and demonstrations of those instruments, including, in the cello lesson, demonstration of arco and pizzicato.

Related Lesson Plans

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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