Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/Class Lesson 4/16

“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Thursday, April 16, 2020

Video Link:



Please email or text me your weekly grade (points) tomorrow–or this weekend at the latest for the past week.  This is how I am going to record your participation/attendance.  (See contact information in header.)  Please include a brief summary of what you have been doing!

Remember, you get 1 point for every 30 minutes of music activity that you are engaged in:  practicing, watching/reading my daily lessons (1 point each day), doing the assignments that I’ve posted, etc.  You can use time that you spent the past 4 weeks if you are short.

There will NOT be a lesson/video for tomorrow, Friday, April 17th.  Use this time to write me your grade and a brief summary of what you have been doing!



Monday:  Make something GOOD come out of this period of quarantine—it’s really up to YOU!

Tuesday:  What’s the Score???  Listen to music while watching the score…your EARS WILL REALLY GROW!

Wednesday:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!  Consider how you are making use of your practice time.  Even a half hour of focused practicing a day will keep you sharp.  There are so many online resources to explore!


TODAY’S LESSON:  “The Easiest Symphony to Enjoy!”


Wow!  That is a statement—but I’ll back it up…

The easiest symphony to enjoy is Hector Berlioz’s “Symphony Fantastique” written in 1830 when the composer was only 27 years old!  What makes the symphony so easy to enjoy is that there is something for everyone in its 5 movements:  traditional sounding melodies and orchestration along with very cool and innovative musical passages and orchestration.  Of particular note is the amount of dynamic contrast used for expression!  There are great moments for woodwinds (including English horn, but no saxophones—sorry), brass (but no euphonium but the first tuba part is often played on an instrument similar to a euphonium), percussion (including some huge bells in the 5th movement) and strings (including 2 harps).  It’s never boring—even when it is slow…the pacing is exceptional.

And here’s the best part:  It is based on a story—a program—which makes it the first really “programmatic work.”  It is like listening to the soundtrack of a movie, except—and this is really important—the music can actually stand alone on its own…it’s so good!  But so is the story—it’s got everything:  romance, adventure, violence, etc.

Before we quickly explore each of its movements, we need to learn the synopsis of the story—what the piece is about:

The story is about an artist/musician who sees the “significant other of his dreams” (in this case it is a woman).  He falls madly in love with her…  In the second movement, he sees her at a ball (a formal dance), but she is dancing with others and doesn’t even notice him (although near the end of the movement there is a suggestion that perhaps he does catch her eye…  In the third movement the artist is resting out in the country and thinks about his love but grows very melancholy realizing that it will probably not work out.  In the fourth movement, the artist falls asleep and dreams that he has killed his beloved because she will not acknowledge him and is lead to the guillotine and has his head chopped off.  (Nice, eh?)  While still asleep—in the fifth movement, the artist dreams that he has been sent to hell and is attending his own “hellish” funeral.


MOVEMENT 1:  Visions and Passions

First of all, note the title of the movement:  not “Largo, Allegro Agitato”; rather “Visions and Passions”

The long introduction captures the artist’s state of melancholy before he sees his beloved.

The most important part of this work is the main theme that occurs when the music picks up tempo.  This theme is known as a “idee fixe” or “fixed idea” that represents the girl he falls in love with and appears in every movement.  This is a totally NEW concept!



After a short introduction, a delightful waltz-like melody appears signifying that the artist is at a grand ball (dance).  Of particular note in this movement is the inclusion of 2 harps!

After a short while, the theme of the beloved appears (the “idee fixe”) now in waltz meter.  The remainder of the movement has the 2 themes going back and forth.


MOVEMENT 3:  In the Country

The cool aspect of this movement is what happens in the intro and outro.  In the introduction, 2 shepherds are musically depicting calling and responding to each other, as depicted by an English horn answered by the oboe.  In the outro (coda), the first shepherd calls (English horn), but is NOT answered…rather his call is answered by thunder in the distance as played by 4 timpani drums playing chords!!

The “idee fixe” does appear in the middle of the movement.


MOVEMENT 4:  March to the Scaffold

This is perhaps the most well-known of the 5 movements for three reasons: the image of someone being lead to the guillotine is an awesome (albeit macabre) concept; the main march theme is very attractive and upbeat, full of those classic French dotted rhythms; and at the very end, Berlioz depicts 3 memorable events: 1) an abbreviated statement of the “idee fixe” representing a last remembrance of the beloved; 2) the blade of the guillotine chopping off the artist’s head and 3) the head bouncing into a bucket!  (Eeew!)


MOVEMENT 5:  The Witches Sabbath

This is the other most enjoyed movement for 3 reasons:  1) the novel orchestral effects used to evoke the haunted scenes of hell, 2) the appearance of the “idee fixe” now as a vulgar, wicked dance; and 3) the inclusion of the ancient chant “Dies Irae” –always associated with death–to evoke the artists funeral.



1) This symphony was an “instant hit” for Berlioz and really launched his career.  The audiences particularly loved the 4th movement (which Berlioz actually wrote in one evening!).

2) There is a bit of fact involved with this symphony.  Berlioz did fall in love with a singer by the name of Harriet Smithson, and he did write this piece to win her affection.  When Ms. Smithson finally heard the symphony, she was so moved that she agreed to marry Berlioz!  [Unfortunately, the marriage did not exactly work out and they separated amicably many years later.]



Berlioz autobiography:  The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz



Watch/listen to the following links.  The first 5 are very entertaining and easy to understand analyses of the movements.  In the final link, you can listen to the entire work while watching the SCORE!

“Symphonie Fantasique” Analysis


Movt. 1:  Visions and Passions 


Movt. 2:  A Ball


Movt. 3:  In the Country


Movt. 4:  The Procession to the Scaffold


Movt. 5:  A Witches Sabbath


To Listen to “Symphonie Fantastique” while watching score: 




Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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