We’re back at it again with a list of books for your elementary music library! This time, the focus is on books that feature stories from music history. These books are great for introducing composers/events to students, and can also be extensions to concepts you are already using in your classroom.
I’m passionate about music history, and all of its weird, exciting twists and turns. I hope this list will ignite that passion in you and your students, as well!
These books are great for in-person class, but also for distance learning. All of these can be used as read-alouds for a virtual class meeting, and each can inspire various stimulating music-related assignments/activities for your students.
Some lesson ideas are included with each book description below. No matter what situation you find yourself in, these five books belong in your classroom!
1. When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky, Lauren Stringer
I will admit, I have a personal soft spot for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The dissonance, the rhythms, the story, it’s all so captivating! This book really highlights the exciting parts about both the music and the choreography of the infamous 1913 ballet.
Upper elementary students love the idea of a riot (at a ballet, of all places!) and you can use that excitement to jump into discussions on syncopation, dissonant chords, and many other musical concepts!
2. Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, Anna Harwell Celenza
The music of Danse Macabre on its own is absolutely fantastic. When accompanied by this book, my students loved it even more! It follows Camille Saint-Saens as he is inspired to write the ghoulish music.
It is a great book to use around Halloween time, or any time you are wanting to discuss imagery in music, different roles that instruments play in a piece, or ¾ time!
3. A Band of Angels, Deborah Hopkinson
This is a beautiful book that follows the story of the Jubilee Singers, a group of African American singers, who were also former slaves, who toured the United States to raise money to keep their college open.
It introduces real slave spirituals, including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The author brings us along on their journey of hardship and shows us how the singers triumph through the power of music.
Many teachers use this book during Black History Month, but it would also be a great book for introducing or expanding upon the idea of call and response and other concepts related to spirituals.
4. Bach's Goldberg Variations, Anna Harwell Celenza
This book is full of rich vocabulary for all levels of your elementary classes! The story follows young Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, and how he came to live with Count Keyserlingk and take lessons from J.S. Bach.
What I love about this book is that it is rich with concepts and history, while still being accessible to elementary students. Some of the concepts addressed are canons, arias, and variations.
It also includes a more detailed history of the Goldberg Variations at the very end, in case you or your students are interested in learning more!
5. Do, Re, Mi: If you Can Read This, Thank Guido D'Arezzo, Susan L. Roth
This is one book that my students absolutely love! The art style is unique and the story is engaging. It follows Guido D’Arezzo from when he was a young boy with a dream all the way through adulthood.
The book also explores how his idea of musical notation was not accepted at first, which can be a powerful lesson about perseverance for your students. It can be used for all levels of elementary, and is a great starting point for discussing musical notation and literacy.
I hope you found something new in this list to bring to your classrooms! Music history is a subject often pushed to the side in favor of other aspects of music, which is completely understandable.
On the other hand, delving into music history can give students a new perspective on the music they are listening to, and can develop a deeper appreciation for the art of music. What could be better than that?
This post may contain affiliate links. I will receive a small commission on any purchases through these links, but there is no cost passed on to you! Affiliate links help keep the lights on!
This article was submitted by Rachel Ammons, contributing author for ThatMusicTeacher.com. Interested in becoming a contributing author? Email resume and writing sample to email@example.com.