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Student work from Agassiz Elementary School.

In the fall of 2015, the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched two exciting new partnership programs for Chicago Public Schools: an in-school residency program, and a teacher professional development and curriculum building community. On this page, you will find more information about student process in the curriculum program. To learn more about the program on Sounds & Stories, please click here.


In January 2016, students participating in the CSO-Connect program began engaging with the text from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the music composed by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev that portrays the plot and themes of the tragedy. Through the lenses of this music and text, students came to understand how the choices and consequences made by the characters in the play led to the demise of the star-crossed lovers, and how the different musical choices made by the composers impact the listeners’ understanding of the play. Although the text of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is quite difficult for middle school students to grasp, the various ways that the students intersected with the music—listening to and analyzing recorded music in their classrooms, hearing the music performed at their schools by an ensemble of Civic Orchestra members, and attending the Romeo and Juliet CSO School concert at Symphony Center—provided a pathway for them to better understand the play. Below are brief descriptions of the unique interdisciplinary work that our five partner schools engaged in during this year’s CSO-Connect program.

A student from Edwards Elementary School performing an original composition. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016

A student from Edwards Elementary School performing an original composition.

Louis A. Agassiz Elementary School (Lincoln Park)

After studying the music and text of Romeo and Juliet, students composed original music using Orff and other pitched and non-pitched instruments to accompany stop-action animation movies depicting a scene from the play.

DeWitt Clinton School (West Rogers Park)

The big idea Choices and Consequences was explored in music class through the writing of original musical compositions. An analysis of the characters in the play was used in art class as inspiration for drawings and painted images of eyes that expressed the perspective and emotion of a particular character.

Walt Disney Magnet Elementary School (Buena Park)

In music class, students wrote three digital music compositions, using different musical elements to show the changes in the character’s traits throughout the play. These compositions were inspired by the collages and paintings that students created in art class based on their study of symbolism.

Student work from Swift Elementary School.

Student work from Swift Elementary School.

Richard Edwards Elementary School (Archer Heights)

The music of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev was a catalyst for students to write poems that demonstrated the changes characters underwent during the course of the play. Students then wrote original musical compositions for guitar that accompanied the poetry.

George B. Swift Elementary Specialty School (Edgewater)

Inspired by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, students composed music that became the soundtracks to their Romeo and Juliet movies. Using their character analysis study from literature class, art students covered a human silhouette with a collage of color blocks representing the emotional traits of their chosen character.

According to teachers’ feedback, students were highly invested in these units and gained a deep understanding of the music of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Sara Knox, art teacher at George B. Swift Elementary Specialty School shared, “Having students explore a major concept or theme through the lens of many different disciplines helps students see the level of importance of the arts plus [the ways that] academic subject areas work together.” Finally, teachers felt that, instead of solely focusing on the learning standards assessed on a standardized test, this project provided an important opportunity for students to focus on big ideas, connections between subjects, and the process of learning.

The CSO-Connect program continues the partnership with these five schools next year, deepening teachers’ ability to reflect on and refine their teaching practice.