Sunday, April 14, 2013

Music: Peter & The Wolf with David Bowie

A wolf scares the sheep. This image is from the German children's story
Wolf und sieben Geisslein (The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids) by Leutemann or Offterdinger, photo by Harke, from Wikimedia Commons.  Wolves are often used in the children's stories of Europe.  They are usually symbols of fear and cunning.  Sheep are usually symbols of innocence. What animals are common in stories from your country?
Do you want to learn about orchestral music?
Peter and the Wolf combines a fantastic tale with a lesson on orchestral music.  You will learn to distinguish the many sounds of the many instruments in an orchestra.  When you listen, try to visualize the instruments that you hear.  When you visualize, you create a picture in your mind.  Visualizing is an important skill for strong readers, and when you visualize new English vocabulary, you may remember it better.

-Eric, NYC

About the Song
Peter and the Wolf is a composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 in the USSR. It is a children's story (with both music and text by Prokofiev), spoken by a narrator accompanied by the orchestra. (from

On this post you will find:
  • videos with the music and narration by David Bowie (in four parts)
  • the text for David Bowie's narrated version under each video
  • an additional video, with narration from Patrick Stewart, which includes footage of a ballet performance of the story and music.

The complete song will be displayed in four parts, with the text for that part beneath each video.

Video: Part 1

This is the story of Peter and the wolf.

Each character in the tale is going to be represented by a different instrument of the orchestra. For instance, the bird will be played by the flute. (Like this.) 

A flute (left) and an oboe (right), from El Bibliomata.
Here's the duck, played by the oboe

The cat by the clarinet

Clarinets, from El Bibliomata.
The bassoon will represent grandfather. 
A bassoon, from the front and back, from Wikipedia Commons (This image is in the Public Domain.)
The wolf by the French horns
A french horn, from El Bibliomata.
And Peter by the strings
The strings, from El Bibliomata. In this image, we see the double-bass (largest), the viola (second largest), and two violins (smallest).
The blast of the hunters' shotguns played by the kettle drums.
A kettle drum (also known as a timpani), from Antur on Wikimedia Commons.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

Early one morning, Peter opened the gate and went out into the big green meadow.

On a branch of a big tree sat a little bird, Peter's friend. "All is quiet. All is quiet," chirped the bird gaily. Yes all is quiet.

Video: Part 2

Just then a duck came waddling round. She was glad that Peter hadn't closed the gate and decided to take a nice swim in the deep pond in the meadow.

Seeing the duck, the little bird flew down upon on the grass, settled next to her and shrugged his shoulders. "What kind of bird are you if you can't fly?" said he. 

To this the duck replied: "What kind of bird are you if you can't swim?" and dived into the pond.

They argued and argued, the duck swimming in the pond and the little bird hopping along the shore.

Suddenly, something caught Peter's attention. It was a cat crawling through the grass.

The cat thought: "The bird is busy arguing, I'll just grab him." Stealthily she crept towards him on his velvet paws.

"Look out!" shouted Peter and the bird immediately flew up into the tree, while the duck quacked at the cat, from the middle of the pond. 

The cat walked around the tree and thought, "Is it worth climbing up so high? By the time I get there the bird will have flown away."

Video: Part 3 

Just then grandfather came out. He was angry because Peter had gone in the meadow. "It is the dangerous place. If a wolf should come out of the forest, then what would you do?"

But Peter paid no attention to his grandfather's words. Boys like Peter aren't afraid of wolves.

But grandfather took Peter by the hand, locked the gate and led him home.

No sooner had Peter gone, than a big grey wolf came out of the forest.

In a twinkling the cat climbed up into the tree. The duck quacked, and in her excitement jumped out of the pond. But no matter how hard the duck tried to run, she couldn't escape the wolf.

He was getting nearer, nearer, catching up with her. 

Video: Part 4

And then he got her and with one gulp swallowed her.

And now, this is how things stood: the cat was sitting on one branch, the bird on another, not too close to the cat. And the wolf walked round and round the tree, looking at them with hungry eyes.

In the meantime, Peter, without the slightest fear, stood behind the gate watching all that was going on. He ran home, got a strong rope, and climbed up the high stone wall. One of the branches of the tree, around which the wolf was walking, stretched out over the wall.

Grabbing hold of the branch, Peter lightly climbed over on to the tree. Peter said to the bird: "Fly down and circle over the wolf's head. Only take care that he doesn't catch you."

The bird almost touched the wolf's head with his wings while the wolf snapped angrily at him, this side and that.

How that bird teased the wolf! And how the wolf wanted to catch him! But the bird was clever, and the wolf simply couldn't do anything about it.

Meanwhile, Peter made a lasso and carefully letting it down and down and down, caught the wolf by the tail and pulled with all his might.

Feeling himself caught, the wolf began to jump wildly trying to get loose.

But Peter tied the other end of rope to the tree, and the wolf's jumping only made the rope round his tail tighter.

Just then the hunters came out of the woods, following the wolf's trail and shooting as they went.

But Peter, sitting in the tree, said: "Don't shoot! Birdie and I have already caught the wolf. Now help us take him to the zoo."

Now just imagine, just imagine the triumphant procession. Peter at the head. After him the hunters leading the wolf. And winding up the whole procession grandfather and the cat.

Grandfather shook his head discontentedly. "Well, if Peter hadn't caught the wolf? What then?"

Above them flew Birdie chirping merrily. "My, what brave fellows we are, Peter and I! Look what we have caught!"

And if one would listen very carefully, he would hear the duck quacking inside the wolf, because the wolf, in his hurry, had swallowed her alive.

Video: Ballet Performance of Peter and the Wolf, with narration by Patrick Stewart

What did you learn from this post?


  1. Hello Eric,

    What a very lovely story to share with us. It has just inspired me to do the same in the classroom.

    I am going to read the story and see it in the classroom . It is going to help my students prctise their four skills, above all, listening and speaking.

    Many thanks Eric,

    Hakim, Bejaia, Algeria

    1. Thanks Hakim,

      I discovered this recently, and truthfully, I haven't tried it in a classroom yet. But I think David Bowie is a captivating narrator, and I think it's a beautiful idea that Sergei Prokofiev had to teach about music through stories.

      I will try to share anything that I find that could be useful and interesting for practicing listening/speaking.

      Please let us know how it goes, especially if you have any suggestions to present this more effectively.

      -Eric, NYC, USA


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-Eric, NYC