Sharing Music Across Cultures



This Learning Center takes an in-depth look at the Echoes Symphonic piece by Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's Musical Director Randall Fleischer. Students will identify artistic elements needed to present this piece as a cultural collaboration. In addition to working with Randy Fleischer's piece, students will identify cultural themes and influences to compose their own music. Compositions will provide students an opportunity to reflect  their own cultural and personal backgrounds.

Enduring Understandings

Enduring Understandings

  • Traditional Music from all cultures serves a purpose. In addition to musical aesthetics, common underlying themes can be found in all music.
  • Common aspects of cultural music, as well as differences, can be brought together in such a way that is complementary and beneficial to each culture.
  • All cultures have a musical story to tell, each individual has a musical story to tell and all perspectives are valid and important.

Objectives, Time and Materials

Objectives, Time and Materials

Time required

Two weeks, 10 class periods (50 min. each)

The teacher may wish to space these activities out over a three or four week period (a lesson every couple days) to allow for journal contemplation and reflection as well as multiple viewings of the material.

There are many technical components to these lessons, such as use of Garage Band, movie software and tools including laptop recording, video cameras and cell phone cameras. I would encourage classroom teachers to walk themselves through these lessons with the help of the school Technology instructor prior to teaching the lessons to students.

This may also be an excellent opportunity to team teach and collaborate with your school's Technology instructor.

Materials needed

  • Posted video and audio clips (links are provided on the three activities pages)
  • Laptop access with Garage Band Program; should also have live recording capabilities
  • Video camera or cell phones with video capability
  • Access to IMovie or similar video editing program
  • Poster boards and markers
  • Notebooks for personal project journals

Learning Objectives

Students will

  • Understand the relationship between video imagery and musical composition and orchestration.
  • Compose music to fit a set video imagery in a way that reflects the culture and background of each student.
  • Relate to the composer's task of reflecting distinct cultural characteristics while introducing new material in a way that bridges cultural differences.
  • Reflect on a traditional oral learning delivery model of music and artistic culture, and compare how contemporary delivery models may be different.
  • Identify similarities and differences in the various cultural movements of the musical Echoes symphonic piece, and recognize the value of joining together different cultural styles.

Background Information

Background Information

Music from all cultural regions of the United States has an oral tradition that predates standard musical notation. Music that is passed in this way often has a purpose deeply rooted in each individual culture that is more than musical.

Regalia and traditional instruments are interwoven in the performance of Native music today, weather it be traditional or new compositions. The sounds of these traditional instruments, as well as the full regalia and choreographed movement, are integral components to composer Randy Fleischer's symphonic piece Echoes.

To learn more about traditional instruments and performance practices of the Wampanoag, Hawaiian, and Yupik people, please visit the Learning Center Celebrate: Song Dance and Story.

Randy Fleischer has brought together traditional music from across the United States in a way that combines and highlights these elements. This learning center will look at, and adopt this process to help students reflect their individual lives and culture.

The Finale of the Echoes symphonic piece illustrates each of the distinct cultural elements presented throughout the work. The physical and musical presence of individuals from the various groups highlights the uniqueness of each culture. Although there are different style characteristics, Randy Fleischer weaves the distinct musical threads into an entirely new and rich idea.

Activity 1: Images and Soundscapes, Exploring Soundtrack Composition and Imagery

Activity 1: Images and Soundscapes, Exploring Soundtrack Composition and Imagery

Activity Objectives

  • To help students understand the relationship between music and video imagery
  • To help students recognize the story that this combination tells
  • To help students relate the music and story to their distinct region, social background, individual musical tastes and preferences.

Day 1:

  • Show the class this video segment.

  • Discuss this clip as if it is a story. Assign and Identify the symbolism of the video imagery.

For example, the water itself could be a main character. The  personality or symbolism that it brings to the film's story line as a character might be strength and stability.

  • Have the students reflect upon the following questions about the film as a moving story line.

Note: students may discuss these points in small work groups or may reflect freely with a project journal.

  1. Who are the main characters?

  2. Are all the characters that are represented of equal importance?

  3. Is there a protagonist or antagonist?

  4. Does this story line present a thematic climax?

  • Have students break into small groups (2-4)  and answer the following questions:

  1. If you were a film director, what kind of mood would you try to create with music for the film as a whole? For Example; Students could choose to convey a personal opinion about the presented imagery by choosing music that reenforces that opinion. A student who feels the film conveys a dark contemplative story line might choose music with a dark brooding timbre.

  2. Would all characters identified have the same sound? Students may feel that specific images convey a different mood than the film as a whole, and may choose music of a different timbre or tone for those sections of the film.

  3. What instruments come to mind for each character or scene? Are any of your instrument choices specific to your individual culture or family history?

  4. Do you know of any music or artists that represent your feeling about this clip?

Most groups will have a long list of artists and some potential disagreements. This is OK. These disagreements will be a good opportunity for students to discuss specific musical characteristics that they feel represent or misrepresent the film. These discussions are also a good transition into cutting up several pieces of music to make a musical collage representative of the film.

Day 2

  • Using Garage Band, have students develop 2:52 of mixed music to accommodate the muted film clip. Encourage students to use a wide variety of music and artists to cut and paste together a musical collage.
  • Ask students to add “Director's Notes” to storyboards to explain and credit musical choices. 

Note: It would be helpful to prep this lesson by playing a wide variety of music that students might not be exposed to (jazz, symphonic, Americana, mambo etc.) and having these selections available for student use during this process.

Day 3:

  • Prior to playing the group soundtracks, show the film again and have groups shout out styles or artists that they used in their "soundscapes" at each point in the film. Keep a list on the board of the large variety of music being used. 
  • Have students point out music that shows up on the list that they did not expect, or were surprised to find. Ask students who chose that music to explain how they felt it related to the imagery of the film.

Note: This would be a good opportunity for students whose input may not have been chosen in group to be represented. This is a valuable step and is worth the time that it may take to generate discussion. Having prior knowledge of a story line or composer's intent can give more value to the listening experience.

  • Prior to playing the student soundtracks, set classroom expectations and listening expectations. Students may write comments and critiques in their project journals during sharing time.
  • Have student groups present soundtracks with the silent sound footage.
  • After each group premieres its soundtrack, ask students to share their impressions and give an opportunity for students to ask questions about motivation or inspiration.

Day 4

  • Finish playing the student soundtracks.

  • Show the film with its existing soundtrack, which is the first movement of the Echoes symphonic performance, with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and traditional performers from Hawai'i, Alaska, and Massachusetts, written and conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer.

  • Have students answer the following questions:

  1. What musical elements are similar between your musical soundtrack and the Echoes symphonic piece?

  2. Did you choose any of the same instrumentation or orchestration to represent thematic elements of the film's story line?

  3. Having heard the original soundtrack, would you be inspired to do anything differently?

  • Closing reflection: Having heard the Echoes soundtrack, how do you think it defines the images of the film? What other images could the music inspire on its own? What scenes from your daily life do you feel this music relates to?

Day 5

  • Download (CLICK HERE to download) the Echoes first movement as an audio file only.

  • Follow the previously described steps for creating audio soundtracks, substituting the symphony audio for film footage. That is, identify characters based on sound and instrumentation. Create story boards, identifying imagery to reflect tonal qualities and thicknesses of orchestration.

  • Have students film images from their everyday lives (friends, family, landscapes, images from the natural world).

  • Show the student films with the composed symphonic soundtrack, and have students answer the following questions:

  1. What visual elements are similar between your musical soundtrack and the Echoes symphonic piece?

  2. Did you choose any of the same kinds of imagery to represent the thematic elements of the musical story line?

Extension activity: Collaborate with the technology teacher to layer student musical collages over student films. Follow this with reflection and project journaling as described in the two previous stages of this project.

Activity 2: Learning From an Oral Tradition

Activity 2: Learning From an Oral Tradition

Lesson Background:

Indigenous cultures throughout the United States, as well as working folk cultures (such as the Yankee whaling culture) have passed on music through oral tradition in contrast to written instructions or scores. In the case of indigenous cultures, music was usually passed on by someone the student had a personal connection to, such as a family member or Elder. In some folk cultures, these songs were performed as work songs to unify the movements of labor, having been taught by foremen and senior laborers.

Today music is often learned from downloading files off of the Internet, or reading intricate standard notation.

What aspects of the music do students who learn through oral tradition achieve that is not available to students who learn in a more "Western formal notation method? Learning from an oral delivery model takes a concentrated focus on listening and a sense of patience as well as a stable and reliable relationship between teacher and student.

Lesson Objective:

To help students reinforce a strong relationship with a respected elder family member or mentor, and to encourage them to share music through an oral delivery model.

Day 1

  • Show the Yupik Pulling Song with its traditional orchestration.

  • Ask students to hum the tune.

Most students will feel uncomfortable with this activity if they have not heard the tune enough times to learn it or if they have not sung in front of each other before. Note your understanding of their reluctance, and play the video again.

  • Play it several times, and ask the class to hum along with the video and then hum alone as a class.

  • Students will reflect on the following questions in their project journals:

  1. Imagine a time before easily acessible recording equipment, when songs had to be passed by word of mouth. Would it be easy to learn a song from just anyone?

  2. What characteristics do you think a good mentor would possess?

  3. Aside from the lesson of learning a song, what benefit do you think you could take away from this kind of mentorship?

  • Students are to contact an elder from their family who they feel comfortable interviewing. Students should disclose their full intent and reveal their questions for the interview when initializing the contact.

Interview: Students will need a recording device.

Questions to ask:

  1. What is the first song you can remember hearing someone sing? 

  2. Are there any songs you have only heard sung in your family and nowhere else?

  3. Are there any songs you have only heard where you live or lived?

  4. When was that?

  5. Had you heard that song before? Where?

  6. Would you sing that song for me?

  7. Would you teach that song to me?

  • Students will learn a song BY EAR from their mentor or interviewee. Students should not use a tape recorder to replay song but instead listen to the singing of the song repeatedly until they feel inclined to sing along. This can be a deceptively lengthy process and may take more than one visit.

Day 2

  • Show the Yupik Pulling Song from Day 1 again, then play the orchestrated version from the Echoes symphonic performance. Have the students answer the following questions in their project journals:

  1. Having hummed this song the day before and heard the sparse orchestration of the voice and Yupik drum, what are your first impressions of the orchestrated version?

  2. Do you feel that anything has been lost or is missing in the new orchestration? What?

  3. Do you feel that there is a positive effect on the music through the new orchestration? What is it about the new arrangement that makes you feel this way?

  4. Does the new orchestration of the Pulling Song change your original opinion of the song? Do you like it more? Less? Why?

  • Reflect on the above questions as a class.

  • Remind students to finish learning songs from their Elder or mentor.


Day 3


  • Show the traditional No Luna segment several times, asking students to hum along.

  • Show the traditional Yupik Pulling Song again, having students answer these questions in their project journals:

  1. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem contrary between these two styles of music?

  2. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem complementary between these two styles of music?

  • Show the orchestrated version of No Luna from the Echoes symphonic performance.

  • Show the orchestrated version of the Yupik Pulling Song, having students answer these questions in their project journals:

  1. What musical elements (texture, dynamics, tonal range) seem contrary between these two styles of music?

  2. What musical elements (texture,dynamics,tonal range) seem complementary between these two different styles of music?

  • Reflect as a class: How did the difference in orchestration change your perspective on the relationships between these two different styles of music?

  • Did the symphonic orchestration make it easier to relate these two distinctively different styles of music? How so?

  • Remind students to finish learning songs from their Elder or mentor.


Day 4

Students will perform the song they learned from their Elder or mentor for the class.

Prior to these performances, make sure you have set listening guidelines and performance protocols for your classroom.

Each student should invite his or her Elder or mentor to class for the song sharing activity.

This project would not be possible without the help of the students' mentors. It is the teacher's job to make sure their participation in this phase of the activity goes as smoothly as possible. The teacher may need to arrange rides for mentors, should make sure that they are comfortable during the performance (with age appropriate seating), and should be thanked publicly for their help in this project. A small gift or token of appreciation from the class for each Elder or mentor would be appropriate.

Student Performance:


  • Each student should introduce his or her Elder or mentor to the class.

  • Each student will introduce the piece of music learned from the mentor and will tell a little bit about the process of learning the tune in this manner.

  • Each student will perform his or her tune; Elders and mentors are welcome to perform for the class as well if they wish, but this should be decided prior to the classroom visit so guests do not feel put on the spot.

  • Each student should end the performance by telling one thing he or she felt was special about this learning experience


Activity 3: Meter and Movements of Labor and Ceremony

Activity 3: Meter and Movements of Labor and Ceremony

Lesson Objectives: 

  • To help students relate movement and performance practice to work and traditional practices based upon two scenes, Sneak Up and Sea Chantey, from the Echoes symphonic performance.

  • To help students understand the challenge of combining music from different cultures in terms of meter and phrasing.

In both the Sneak Up and the Sea Chantey, the performance practices are contrary to the movement they portray. The Sea Chantey, "Old Maui,” portrays hard deliberate motion of labor and navigation while the song is performed in a relaxed manner with wide four part harmony that would be hard to produce in the actual act of sailing.

The "Sneak Up" portrays sneaking up on a hunter's or warrior's prey, yet the movement of the dancer is fast and showy, while the music is loud and piercing. 

  • Show the Sea Chanty and Sneak Up clips and have students answer the following in their project journal:


  1. What motions or performance practices might lend themselves to the actual task described in the music?

  2. Why would these performance practices have evolved this way?

Split the class into two groups:

  • Group A: Simulate the motions needed for the act of hunting while playing the “Sneak Up" music. Students will create their own movements to demonstrate their understanding of the activity portrayed by the clip.

  • Count how many beats occur before each physical activity repeats itself. How many groupings are there overall for the piece?

It is OK to use the term "beat" loosely depending on the musical background of your students. Beat should be something the students can hear, point out and measure.

  • Group B: Simulate the motions needed to reflect the movements of working on a ship while playing the Sea Chantey “Old Maui.” Students will create their own movements to demonstrate their understanding of the activity portrayed in the clip.

  • Count how many beats occur before each physical activity repeats itself. How many groupings are there overall for the piece?

Pair each Group A student with a Group B counterpart
Each pair will answer the following questions for the class:

  1. Does each activity group have the same beats per activity?

  2. If not, how many times would each activity complete a full rotation before each group is at the beginning of its motion cycle?

  3. How would this activity be similar to the process that composer Randy Fleischer went through to make the layering of these different melodies possible for the finale of the Echoes symphonic piece?

Assessment & Standards

Assessment & Standards

Section 7: Check for Understanding and Assessment

Develop a five-point rubric system for each of the criteria listed below. Review each student's project journals accordingly. Students who have achieved understanding will score yes on 3 or higher on the following criteria:

  • The student has learned to make musical connections between specific cultures.
  • The student has learned to recognize and appreciate musical elements from specific cultures.
  • The student is able to appreciate the relationship between Elders or mentors and the creation of art with a deep personal meaning.
  • The student is able to empathize with the task of a composer trying to represent and combine music from distinctly different cultures.
  • The student is able to appreciate that each culture has a distinctive artistic contribution that stands on its own, while recognizing that each contribution can be combined with art of a different culture to make a worthwhile collaboration.

Alaska State Language Arts Standards

Language Arts Standard A: A student should be able to speak and write well for a variety of purposes and audiences.

#4 Write and speak well to inform, to describe, to entertain, to persuade, and to clarify thinking in a variety of formats, including technical communication.

#5 Revise, edit, and publish the student’s own writing as appropriate.

 #6 When appropriate, use visual techniques to communicate ideas; these techniques may include role playing, body language, mime, sign language, graphics, Braille, art, and dance.

 #7 Communicate ideas using varied tools of electronic technology.

 #8 Evaluate the student’s own speaking and writing and that of others using high standards.

Language Arts Standard B: A student should be a competent and thoughtful reader, listener, and viewer of literature, technical materials and a variety of other information.

#1 Comprehend meaning from written text and oral and visual information by applying a variety of reading, listening, and viewing  strategies; these strategies include phonic, context, and vocabulary cues in reading, critical viewing, and active listening.

#2 Reflect on, analyze, and evaluate a variety of oral, written, and visual information and experiences, including discussions, lectures, art, movies, television, technical materials, and literature.

#3 Relate what the student views, reads, and hears to practical purposes in the student’s own life, to the world outside, and to other texts and experiences.

Alaska State Fine Arts Standards

Arts Standard A: A student should be able to create and perform in the arts. A student who meets the content standard should:

#1participate in dance, drama, music, visual arts, and creative writing;

#3 appropriately use new and traditional materials, tools, techniques, and processes in the arts;

#4 demonstrate the creativity and imagination necessary for innovative thinking and problem solving;

#5 collaborate with others to create and perform works of art;

#6 integrate two or more art forms to create a work of art.

Arts Standard B: A student should be able to understand the historical and contemporary role of the arts in Alaska, the nation, and the world. A student who meets the content standard should:

#1 recognize Alaska Native cultures and their arts;

#2 recognize United States and world cultures and their arts;

#3 recognize the role of tradition and ritual in the arts;

#4 investigate the relationships among the arts and the individual, the society, and the environment;

#7 explore similarities and differences in the arts of world cultures.

Arts Standard C: A student should be able to critique the student’s art and the art of others. A student who meets the content standard should:

#1 know the criteria used to evaluate the arts; these may include craftsmanship, function, organization, originality, technique, and theme;

   b. describe the use of basic elements;

   c. analyze the use of basic principles;

   d. interpret meaning and artist’s intent; and

   e. express and defend an informed opinion.

 #3 accept and offer constructive criticism;

 #4 recognize and consider an individual’s artistic expression;

Arts Standard D: A student should be able to recognize beauty and meaning through the arts in the student’s life. A student who meets the content standard should:

#4 listen to another individual’s beliefs about a work of art and consider the individual’s reason for holding those beliefs;

#5 consider other cultures’ beliefs about works of art;

#6 recognize that people connect many aspects of life through the arts.

Alaska State Technology Standards

Technology Standard A: A student should be able to operate technology-based tools. A student who meets the content standard should:

 #1 use a computer to enter and retrieve information;

 #2 use technological tools for learning, communications, and productivity;

 #3 use local and worldwide networks.

Technology Standard 

C: A student should be able to use technology to explore ideas, solve problems, and derive meaning. A student who meets the content standard should:

 #1 use technology to observe, analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions;

 #2 solve problems both individually and with others.

Technology Standard 

D: A student should  be able to use technology to express ideas and exchange information. A student who meets the content standard should:

 #1 convey ideas to a variety of audiences using publishing, multi-media, and communications tools;

 #3 use technology to explore new and innovative methods for interaction with others.

Resource Listing

Resource Listing

Yup’ik cultural background information

Wampanoag cultural background information

Wampanoag traditional music information and example

Wampanoag cultural background information

Historical background on Whaling culture

Hawaiian cultural background information

Background information on Hawaiian chants, including a discography of chants and chanters including examples

Information on historical context of Hawaiian chants