Klavier Festival Ruhr
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The Petrushka classroom projects

In this section you will find a step by step guide to five projects based on Stravinsky’s ballet music, Petrushka  .

The projects can be done as separate activities or may be put together to form a longer performance. They are ideal for the primary classroom, but with modification can be done with other age groups.

Fairground scene - “Come and buy!”
The bells of St Petersburg
Cockeyed dance
Putting the fairground scene together
Sad and jealous

In the Ruhr area we had a special goal; to prepare the children for a multi-ethnic fairground scene   in the huge Jahrhunderthalle, a disused factory which has been turned into a centre for artistic activities. This included a full performance of Petrushka by the Bochumer Symphoniker under their conductor Steven Sloane. We worked with puppeteers, and with professional musicians from the orchestra as part of their professional development. We worked with 9 and 10 year old pupils and restricted ourselves mainly to Fairground scene “Come and buy” and two songs, Ding dong ding and Petrushka, you’ve got a jinx on you. We had four workshops.

At the end of this creative process the puppeteers and the children gave performances to other classes of children. This gave the work in school a focus and a climax similar to the Jahrhunderthalle performance itself. The children all came to the Jahrhunderhalle event.

Before starting these projects, you may find it useful to read through Listening to Petrushka in which you will find the story of Petrushka.

In Songs to sing and music to play you will find sheet music for the songs in the project. The parts of the Petrushka score, to which the projects refer, are explained in How Stravinsky does it.

Fairground scene – “Come and buy!”

1. Talk about fairs  .

In the days before recorded music and microphones, stall-holders at fairs often invented special calls to attract customers. Ask the children 

  • what sort of things do the children imagine were shouted?
  • what might the stall-holders have done to make their call particularly attractive to the passers-by?
  • can they suggest any other way of attracting customers’ attention?

Invite one or two children to perform their initial ideas to the class and then discuss their effectiveness. They must not forget that they will be competing with all the other stall-holders.

2. Divide the class into groups of 6 and ask each group to decide

  • what they are going to sell;
  • to invent a special call to attract customers.

When the stall-holders’ calls are ready, get each group to perform to the class.

Encourage the children to discuss, constructively, the effectiveness of each performance. 

4. Then help the children to combine the different groups   to create the atmosphere of a fair.

5. Use ostinati to create a background bustle.

Explain ostinato   to the class. An ostinato is a musical shape that repeats without changing.


Musicians often use Italian for musical instructions.

Using xylophones or glockenspiels (one for each group), ask the children to invent ostinati using the notes

  • group 1: D E G A
  • group 2: A B D E
  • group 3: B D E G
  • group 4: E G A B

Ask each group to invent its own ostinato. Lots of people playing different ostinati that all fit together will create an impressive sense of bustle.

6. When the children have invented their ostinati, add the calls of the stall-holders. Perhaps one group should play its ostinato whilst another group does its calls, so that the children do not have to do two things at once.

7. Help the children to combine all the calls and ostinati   to recreate the exhuberant chaos of a fair.

How Stravinsky does it

The bells of St Petersburg - Ding dong ding

   Download sheet music.
   Listen to the song.

Stravinsky uses several folk melodies in Petrushka. This project invites the children to add peals of bells to the celebratory song Ding dong ding.

1. Teach the song to the children  .

2. Set up a row of bell-like notes: D E F# G A B C D

3. You might use the notes of a metallophone or a glockenspiel. But it is more fun if you have a set of chime bars.

4. Ask a row of seven children to take one each. Then ask another child to “play” a peal of bells by pointing to the children one after the other.

5. Ask the child to start with a simple peal (D to D down the scale). Then give several children the chance to invent different peals (pointing to the notes in different orders), but make the rule that each child must remember what s/he invented so that it can be repeated again and again like real bell-ringers do. This obliges the child to make concrete decisions. It also ensures that the peals are not too complicated.

6. Ask a child to choose a deep instrument and add a drone note on D or A (or both).

7. Perhaps you have enough instruments to have several peals of bells sounding at the same time. In old St Petersburg one can imagine that several churches could be heard at the same time, each pealing at its own speed.

8. Add the bells to the song and its triad accompaniment.

How Stravinsky does it

Cockeyed dance

   Listen to the song.
   Watch video.

For several centuries before Stravinsky’s time, most music had been composed to a regular beat, divided into regular measures. For example:

1234 1234 1234 1234 (the march from Tchaikowsky’s 6th Symphony, the first movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, etc etc)

123 123 123 123 (any waltz, any menuet, Beethoven’s Fuer Elise, etc etc)

One of Stravinsky’s great innovations was to invent music using beats divided into irregular measures.

Here is a dance game using irregular measures.

Teach this to the children  : (c = clap, s = slap your thighs, f = stamp your foot)


That was one measure of 3 and one measure of 11. Now this one:


That was one measure of 3 and one measure of 7. Now this one:


That was one measure of 3 and one measure of 4.

Now try performing the whole thing without stopping.

That was part one of the dance.

The second part   is in regular measures of 4:

Gp 1:sccssccssccssccssccs

Perform the whole dance: part one, part 2 then part 1 again without interrupting the beat.

If the class enjoys the exercise, you might like to add one last refinement. In the second section, divide the class in half. One half claps and slaps exactly as before. The other half clap every 5 beats:

Gp 1:sccssccssccssccssccs
Gp 2:cccc

Then, when they return to the beginning of the whole piece, everyone arrives at 1 at the same time.

When you get to know it, you may like to sing it, chant it or perform it on instruments.

Here is a written out version with invented words:

Gp 1:Rolluppeo-ple,Rolluppeo-ple,Rolluppeo-ple,Rolluppeo-ple,Rolluppeo-ple,
Gp 2:clapclapclapclap

How Stravinsky does it

Putting the fairground scene music together

You may wish to treat all of the above projects as separate activities. Putting them all together may be too complex a task for the class. But some classes do manage it. You may have to help with the organisation and the decision-making.

1. Invite the children to imagine they are at the fairground in old St Petersburg. Their job is to find a way of assembling all they have learnt and invented to make a truly exuberant musical fairground scene.

Ask the children to decide how their musical fairground scene will work.

  • Should it start with the song, with the stall-holders, or with the dance?
  • When and how should the change between the three elements take place?
  • Or should some happen simultaneously?

2. The children may find that during this process they have to share instruments and, possibly, move into different groups.

  • How can they best organise themselves and their instruments to minimise the amount of moving around necessary?
  • Can they make their moves without interrupting the flow of their performance?
  • Or should the moving around simply be part of the fair?

This is, of course, a difficult organisational and social exercise and the children are to be congratulated if they can achieve an orderly solution.

3. When the children have performed their fairground scene, listen to the opening of Petrushka.

How Stravinsky does it

Lead a discussion with the class.

  • What do the children think of Stravinsky’s fairground scene music and his version of the song?
  • Does the way he has organised his music work well?
  • Can they hear the flutes calling customers to their stall and the celli immediately trying to attract them to theirs? How many times does this happen?
  • What other elements of a fairground can they identify?

Then listen again to Stravinsky’s fairground music.

Sad and jealousPetrushka’s chord

One of the aims of the creative work in this pack is to get the sound of Stravinsky’s music into the children’s ears. Perhaps the most important sound to recognise in Petrushka is the music that Stravinsky invented to indicate Petrushka’s state of mind. It is instantly recognisable; so much so that some have called it “the Petrushka chord”.

Petrushka is beside himself with sadness and jealousy. He is in love with the Ballerina and despairs of her love for him. He knows that she has eyes only for the Moor.

1. Discuss jealousy with the class. Jealousy sometimes makes us depressed and often makes us feel angry. It can also make us imagine things and behave in peculiar ways.

Have the children noticed that when people are emotionally troubled their mood can swing quickly from one way of feeling to another?

2. Ask the children to work in pairs and to imagine they are silent film stars acting out a scene about jealousy. When they have thought about it for a bit, invite one or two pairs to act out their scene in front of the class

3. Ask the other children to think about the sort of music that could be added to the scene to make it even more effective. Explain that in the days of silent movies (at the time when Petrushka was composed) live music was particularly important in conveying the emotion of a film.

4. Divide the class into groups to invent some jealous music. They might invent music to the scene invented by a pair of children in the class.

5. After a short while, review their progress – invite each group to perform their work-so-far to the class. Then introduce a new element  :

  • take a white-note xylophone (C D E F G A H C) and change the F to F#;
  • play, one after the other, the notes D F# A D;
  • now take another white-note xylophone and change the E to Eb and the A to Ab;
  • play, one after the other, C Eb Ab C (starting with the deepest C);
  • now ask a child to help you. You play D F# A D (starting with the deepest D) at exactly the same time as the child plays C Eb Ab C

The result is a delicious set of clashes, “Petrushka’s chord”. Each successive pair of notes must be adjacent so that the sounds clash as much as possible.

The louder and faster the children play it, the angrier it sounds. Try it on the piano – it sounds even angrier. It could be extended by repeatedly hammering of the last D and C.

NOTE As we, in our filmed workshops, had large metallophones we were able to play the Petrushka chord from the beginning of Part 2 of Petrushka at Stravinsky’s original pitch. It is possible that you will have smaller instruments in your class, so I have moved your version one tone higher. But the effect is exactly the same.

6. In the Songs to sing and music to play section you will find the Moor’s tune. Perhaps a group of children would like to learn this and include it in their sad and jealous music, as Petrushka thinks of the Moor.

Would they like to extend this music in some way? Perhaps they might add music that illustrates the way Petrushka feels after thinking about the Moor.

7. When the children have performed their music to the class and the class havs discussed it, listen to Part Two of Petrushka. It is sometimes called “Petrushka’s Room” on CD sleeves.

How Stravinsky does it

After listening to Stravinsky’s music, lead a discussion with the class.

  • How effective do the children think Stravinsky’s music is, and why?
  • Can the children suggest any ways in which it could be improved?
  • Having heard what Stravinsky did, would they like to modify their own music?