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Handel, Empathy and a Quill

Handel's QuillHandel, Empathy and a Quill

The culminating adventure with George Frideric Handel was an experience with empathy and a quill. After the windows were blackened and the lights were turned off, the children felt their way inside a 12’x 12′ black tent inside the music room.  In the pitch black darkness,  they heard the story of how George Frideric Handel wrote his most famous work, The Messiah, in just two weeks time.  Turning on first one and then another, I placed a small LED candle in front of each student as I told the story. By the end, the glow inside the tent was enough to see that my rapt listeners were ready to experience Handel, empathy and a quill. They were ready to hear the most glorious music ever written. This is the performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus that I shared with my students:

The Hallelujah Chorus

This performance is from Andre Rieu’s “Live From Radio City Music Hall” in New York City 2004, with the Johann Strauss Orchestra and the Harlem Gospel Choir. I know this performance might seem too fast for some, but it’s perfect for young children, in my opinion, because the energy pulls the listener in and lifts them toward heaven. I love the power, the intensity, and the visual mix of musicians of every race performing this amazing piece together with such passion.

Empathy with Quill and Ink

In the faint glow, my captivated students watched my every move as I passed out strips of paper, bowls of ink, and feather quills. Remembering all that we had learned about the inconveniences of life in Handel’s day, writing music with a quill in the dark with just a small candle provided the right setting for a lesson on empathy.

Handel's_MessiahDid you know that it is estimated that Handel worked 10 hours a day and had to write at least 15 notes per minute to finish writing the Messiah in such a short time? This image of Handel’s music brought gasps from everyone. “How could he write so many notes without messing up?”

Book Creator Reflection

After the students finished writing with quill and ink, they used Book Creator to reflect on what they had experienced. This is a compilation of their thoughts taken from their reflections:

Empathy Cultivates Curiosity.

Curiosity led to discovery. Discovery led to learning. This unit of study began with a picture of a young boy playing music in the attic by candlelight, but look at the path the lesson took:

  • We substituted pen and paper for the iPad
  • We augmented the activity by drawing circles and recording questions simultaneously and individually
  • We modified the learning when we used the iPad to make connections between Flat Handel and the present
  • The lesson was redefined when students used the iPad to research fashion of the day, inventions, important historical events and people, the organ bellows, learn about the way to produce a continual flow of air, and to create an ePub presentation for reflection,

We are in year four of 1:1 iPads at our school and finally getting to the point where the iPad is just like a pencil; a tool with which to learn. Using it is becoming more and more intuitive, like when studying a foreign language and suddenly finding that you are thinking in the new language instead of English.

Curiosity Can be Dangerous

Googling something is so easy; type in the word and the answer is found almost instantly. Near the beginning of the Handel unit, I showed them the picture below and had them brainstorm questions. Finally, they had to find two composers born the same year as Handel. Handel bald
Once they found the answer, I showed them the face of Johann Sebastian Bach who has been recreated by experts at Dundee University more than 250 years after the German composer’s death. I just thought it would be interesting to see.

Bach without wig



The biggest question most students had was, “Why did they wear wigs back then?” Before I blinked my eyes, one students googled and said, “They had bugs in their hair because they didn’t take baths.”

Another boy said,  “Because they had diseases like silly-fuss that made them go bald.” It went downhill from there….

“They had bugs in their hair because they didn’t take baths.”

“What is silly-fuss?”

“Why didn’t they take baths?”

“The nurse told my mom that she needed to shave my head to get rid of lice… is that why they shaved their heads back then?”

We were right in the middle of a lice breakout and I really didn’t want the conversation to go that way… so beware….

Curiosity is a Game Changer!!

I would love to hear how curiosity has changed the learning in your classroom lately.

Tell me! 🙂


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Cherie Herring

Music/Technology Integration at Hammond School
I teach elementary music, am passionate about integrating technology into my teaching, am obsessed with my SMARTBoard and iPad, and enjoy creating lessons and sharing ideas. I love technology almost as much as I love cheesecake, and with more energy and ideas than I know what to do with, I can't wait for the sun to come up each morning! I'm wife to Prince Charming and mom to three incredible girls who keep me balanced. . . sort of!

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