Carnival of the Animals Study Guide

Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens may be the perfect introduction to classical music for children, and the Maestro Classics edition is specifically intended for that purpose. The CD and the accompanying booklet have lots of background information about Saint-Saens, who was a musical child prodigy. Kids will enjoy hearing about his public performances of Beethoven at age 6.

They’ll also enjoy the Carnival of the Animals, a collection of pieces of music referencing various animals. The links in the list below go to lesson plans and resources for learning more about the animals in question:

Each selection is quite different from the others, from the lovely cello piece “The Swan,” a popular ballet solo, to the clattering bones of “The Fossils.”

The Carnival was composed in February 1886 for a chamber group of flute, clarinet, two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass.  The recording reference here is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra,  with a glockenspiel instead of a glass harmonica.

The glass harmonic or armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin. It works by the same principle that lets people play tunes by rubbing their fingers around the edge of a glass. Explore this safely in the classroom with a glass xylophone.

Here are some discussion questions and activities to use with this piece:

  • Write up each of the Ogden Nash verses (in the booklet that comes with the recording) and analyze them at the appropriate level for your class, identifying rhymes, memorizing them, or looking up unfamiliar words.
  • What makes the lion’s music sound like a lion? What’s elephantine about The Elephant? Challenge students to get specific about the characteristics of each piece that remind them of the animals.
  • Listen for specific instruments, such as the cello in The Swan or the piano in Kangaroos.
  • Listen and read about Saint-Saens and add events from his life to your classroom timeline.
  • Have students learn and sing “Clair de la Lune” with the singalong. Then have them listen for the tune in Kangaroos. They can also hear “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the can-can in other parts.
  • Have students draw the animals as they listen.

Online resources:

Picture books:

Jack Prelutsky’s usual energy and fun

John Lithgow naturally amplifies the humor

Poems inspired by the music


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  1. Pingback: The sound of angels | LaDona's Music Studio

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