Dr. Seuss and the Art of Musicality

My local music teachers association had its first meeting of the year last Saturday. Our guest speaker was violist Hillary Herndon (pictured left) from the University of Tennessee School of Music. She presented a fascinating and interactive program titled Dr. Seuss and the Art of Musicality.

This program was outstanding! My mind has been whirling all week with further thoughts and ideas. There are so many applications and considerations from a variety of perspectives: that of a musician and a music teacher, but also a reader and a listener.

Herndon often asks her students to find excerpts from literature to bring back and read aloud in front of the class. They are told to present their readings in character. She found that the issues students display while delivering their excerpt (punctuation, volume, pacing, timing, etc.) were usually the same issues they face when interpreting their music. Children’s literature in particular seems to inspire a variety of points for further analysis and critique.

Three of our members read aloud samples from Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Circus, Horton Hears a Who, and The Cat in the Hat, respectively. I won’t go into all of the details here, but the elements that made for a fantastic reading transferred perfectly to how we interpret and convey musical ideas.

 What words will you emphasize? Which ones are most important?
 What notes will you emphasize? Which ones are most important?
 How will your enunciation help produce the character?
 How will your articulation help produce the character?
 Will you speak with any rhythmic pacing?
 Does pacing play a role? How should we organize the rhythmic elements?
 Does the author influence your ideas through punctuation?
 Does the composer influence your ideas through accents and articulation markings?

And so on… we could have compared the reading performances to music for hours!

On the bookish side of things, I thought a lot about how these elements influence my enjoyment of an audiobook, or even when I’m reading silently on my own. Here are some more questions that came to mind:

  • What details make an audiobook narrator better than others? What makes the narrator really great?
  • In Horton Hears a Who, the font size is much smaller when the tiny Whos are speaking, indicating a change in volume and character. How is this type of thing conveyed in adult literature?
  • How do these details influence me as a reader? When I write reviews, can I pinpoint exactly what makes me think the writing is “beautiful” or “exciting” or “dull” or “choppy”?
  • Do BookTubers consider these things when speaking in front of the camera? (Next time I vlog, I know I will, ha!)
  • So much of children’s literature is meant to be read aloud. What can I change to more fully engage my child in the books I read to her?

Herndon concluded by sharing that she hopes to empower her students, to help them realize they have the right and the ability to be creative and share their ideas. I love that. She certainly gave me a ton of ideas of how I can do this with my own students.

A few days ago, C asked me to read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I could tell I’d already internalized many of the ideas above. Though I’ve read it hundreds of times, the text looked full of new possibilities!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.