Teach art. Make it your goal to provide a private school education within a public school.

Make it your goal to provide the same education within a public school setting that any student in a private school would receive.

Introduce art and classical music to your classroom.

Some people think classical music is that music that snobs play. It’s old, it’s stuffy, and it’s boring!!! However, if a middle school student’s world is going to consist of anything beyond the latest hip hop song, the highest level of a videogame, or whatever is currently the rage on TV, you are the one who’s going to open that door to them. Classical music is not really stuffy and boring – if you don’t play stuffy and boring classical music.

Please move beyond the Common Core Curriculum for the sake of both Western and Eastern civilization. Integrate the two; get creative.


I start a middle school student’s introduction to classical music with Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland and follow that with John Williams’ Olympic Theme. Then, we compare how the two pieces sound similar. The “bandies” may be able to recognize the French horns, the tympani, and the cymbals. Finally, we discuss how the music makes them feel. If music doesn’t make you feel something, then it’s stuffy and boring! The last time I played this in class, I heard responses of “That’s tyte!” and “I didn’t know there was classical music like that!”

The next piece I play is John Williams’ Star Wars Theme. Most students know it. I play the whole thing instructing them to listen for soft and loud places and the different instruments that we heard in Copland’s piece. But I always ask, “How does the music make you feel?” Then, I explain that Williams based his Star Wars music on a classical piece called The Planets by Gustav Holtz. I then play Mars, the Bringer of War.

The next piece is Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. By now the class is familiar with the instrumentation of tympani, brass, and cymbals. This piece is paired with the final movement of Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev by Modest Muzzorgsky. Find the orchestral version by Ravel; the original was a piano piece and lacks the triumph and majesty of the full instrumentation.

Finally, since Ravel orchestrated the last piece you played, introduce them to Bolero and show how Ravel builds layers and layers of instruments to reach the final crescendo, and point out how the key change lifts the listener to great heights. I heard a conductor introduce Bolero as “a piece of music that sounds like you could have written it.” It is a strikingly simple melody, yet an immensely complex orchestration.

Other classical pieces which serve to stimulate middle school brains are William Tell Overture by Rossini, and find some Stockhausen just to drive them crazy! If you want to drive them over the edge – absolutely insane – play John Cage, but do your research. They will have questions.

Classical Meets Pop

Now, play Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No 1” and Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” These two piano pieces are easily compared, yet the former is a precursor to surrealism and the latter is French Impressionism. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” rounds out the three. You can play Janet Jackson’s “Someone to Call My Lover” and hear the Satie theme in the chorus. YouTube U.K. electric guitarist Paul Bielatowicz’s version of “Claire de Lune.” Finally, Alicia Keyes “Moonlight Sonata” prelude to “Fallin” from the AOL Sessions concert mesmerizes.

Finally, have the students write about the music that they experienced and how it makes them feel. Relate to mood in writing.


How do you introduce art to middle school students? Here’s how! Show them high quality versions of these thirteen paintings. Do your research and instruct about the artist, the painting, and the reason it was painted.

Mona Lisa – da Vinci

Starry Night – Van Gogh

Officers and Men of the Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Wilhelm van Ruytenburgh also known as The Nightwatch – Rembrandt

Girl with the Pearl Earring – Vermeer

Whistler’s Mother – Whistler

Dance Class II – Vegas

Water Lilies – Monet

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – Seurat

The Scream – Munch

The Old Guitarist – Picasso

Composition with Grid VII – Mondrian

Parade – Lawrence

Nighthawks – Hopper

Do your research. Find three facts about each one. Teach it. Write about it.

©2019 Doug Hanks. All rights reserved.

String quartet by Larisa Birta. Unsplash.com.