The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!


These three twentieth century works each capture very different but powerful emotional qualities. Billy’s Theme by Howard Shore, featuring guitar and orchestral accompaniment, illustrates the feelings of an undercover police agent named Billy Costigan. Musica Celestis, by Aaron Jay Kernis, is inspired by medieval references to the singing of angels, and La Jalousie Taciturne by Gerald Barry is a title taken from a Couperin harpsichord suite and refers to different forms of “taciturn jealousy.”

When you listen to Billy’s Theme consider:

  • How does the repeated opening rhythm and the repeated melody note capture the tormented qualities of the film’s character?
  • How does melodic and rhythmic treatment in the guitar solo express struggle, doubt, and desperation?
  • How does the lyric quality of the guitar’s melodic treatment capture elements of that film’s character?
  • How does the orchestral background and ostinato (repeated pattern) effect create tension in this music?
  • How is increased tension and despair created in the music towards the end of this piece? How does the orchestra accompaniment playing alone at the end of this work contribute to the feeling of despair?

When you listen to Musica Celestis (Music of the Heavens) consider:

  • How does the composer’s use of high range and ascending expansive melodic lines contribute to the ethereal mood of this work?
  • How do the flowing rhythmic treatments contribute to a feeling of praise “without end?”
  • How are tempos and dynamics used to create meditative qualities?
  • How does the use of harmonies and occasional modal lines in this work support a spiritual quality?
  • How do the 7 variations of the theme suggest increasing emotional intensity, rapture, and joy as the piece evolves?
  • How does Kernis use instrumental timbre and color to create contrasts of feeling and emotion?
  • What is the effect of passages where instruments are muted or play without vibrato?
  • How are expressive music elements (dynamics, tempo, legato, sustained rhythms and melodies) used to create a return to serenity at the conclusion of this work?

Critics have declared Gerald Barry’s music like no other, always unexpected, sometimes surreal, and revealing elements of a musical maverick. Do you hear these qualities in La Jalousie Taciturne? What music elements might create these qualities?

  • What words might you use to describe the quadruple forte opening, with its driving rhythms and staccato effects?
  • What effects are created by juxtaposition of dramatic contrasts in dynamics, articulation, timbre, texture, rhythm, melody, and register in this work?
  • What musical elements create a feeling of the surreal in this work?
  • Do you hear humour, as do many listeners, in this work? What music elements might contribute to the humour of this piece?
  • What creates a feeling of hardness, aggressiveness, and perhaps violence in this work?
  • Do you hear qualities of jealousy — how might that be created in the music?
  • Do you hear unexpected sounds in the music — what elements create a sense of the unexpected and surprise for you?


Reflections and Responses (K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)

Grades 9-12 Responding

The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:

  • the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
  • the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
  • the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
  • the learner constructs meanings about music experiences

Grades K-8 Valuing

Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:

  • students analyze their own and others
  • musical excerpts, works, and performances
  • students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music

1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?

2 What feelings or moods did it seem that the composers were trying to communicate in these works? What music elements were important?

3 What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to these works? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you?

4 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? What feelings were you left with at the end of these works?

5 Were there parts of the works that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?

6 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask others who heard the same music about their response to these works.

7 Is there other music by contemporary composers that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of these works?