Guided Listening #3: Listening to the Waves
For this Guided Listening, you will need the following:
A copy of these teaching steps
Text asset: Excerpt from The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Text asset: Gary Kulesha, The Boughs of Music
Audio asset: Excerpt from The Boughs of Music by Gary Kulesha
All assets are provided below.
I. Book Talk
- Share this information with your class:
The Waves is regarded as British author Virginia Woolf's masterpiece. Published in 1931, it uses an innovative form of narrative, part play, part poem and part novel. Woolf rejected the traditional idea of plot and characterization, and instead interleaves interior monologues by six separate characters who gradually tell the story of their lives. Woolf wrote that she was "writing to a rhythm and not to a plot" [cited in the Introduction to Virginia Woolf, The Waves, Annotated with a critical introduction by Molly Hite, Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 2006, p. xxxix] with the result that, "the sound of the waves is like a continuous bass line underlying a piece of music: fundamental, repetitive, and suggesting eternity." [Ibid p.xl] Woolf borrowed the technique of associating a leitmotif (or musical theme) with each character from Wagner's operas, using individual phrases for the motifs.
- Read aloud the text asset: Excerpt from The Waves by Virginia Woolf, which is spoken by a character named Bernard, later on in the novel.
- Pair-share, then discuss: What does Bernard tell us about the meaning of his life? (Life is seen as random flow, like waves or clouds, without any particular pattern or meaning. Humanity is insignificant. At the same time, there is comfort in the magnificence and beauty of the unconcerned natural world.)
- Discuss: How is this passage like a piece of music? (The passage uses heightened language, selected for its sound as much as its sense, and is built like a musical crescendo, climax and coda.)
- Explain that the novel was the inspiration for the music we are about to listen to, Gary Kulesha's The Boughs of Music.
- Read aloud the text asset: Gary Kulesha, The Boughs of Music.
- Predict what musical features we might expect to find in a composition inspired by this novel. List on a chart.
- Listen to the recording.
- Notice the features that were like and unlike the predictions.
This speech comes from the character Bernard, who offers to "explain to you the meaning of my life." Notice the use of musical language and composition in the passage, as well as the key message.
Excerpt from The Waves by Virginia Woolf
"Lying in a ditch on a stormy day, when it has been raining, then enormous clouds come marching over the sky, tattered clouds, wisps of cloud. What delights me then is the confusion, the height, the indifference and the fury. Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up, helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch. Of story, of design I do not see a trace then."
The Waves (pp.176-177)
Gary Kulesha (1954 - )
Kulesha is a distinguished Canadian composer, conductor and pianist who has been associated with most of the country's major orchestras, including the National Arts Centre Orchestra where he was the lead composer for the Young Composer Programme in 2009.
Of the Boughs of Music, Kulesha writes:
The title is taken from a line from The Waves (1931) by Virginia Woolf. For me, this is the most beautiful novel in the English language. It is a set of interior monologues from six characters, following them through their lives from birth to death. The complete line is given to Rhoda, and comes as the characters are entering their post-middle-age years: ‘I parted the boughs of music and saw the house we have made …' There is an autumnal strength in this, a suggestion of both the sadness of time passing and the satisfaction of having lived a productive life, which speaks to me very clearly as I enter my 50s. It is serendipitous that the line specifically refers to music.
Excerpt from The Boughs of Music by Gary Kulesha (0:02:06)
This work takes its name and inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s novel, The Waves. In this excerpt notice a number of techniques mimicking the ocean, including long sustained overlapping calls, initiated by the brass, and faster more playful figures suggesting the liveliness of waves washing up on a sandy beach.
Credits and Copyright
- Text Asset: Excerpt from The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Copyright: Molly Hite
- Audio Asset: Excerpt from The Boughs of Music by Gary Kulesha
2005, Gary Kulesha