Re-imagining ‘The Pines of Rome’

I’ve just finished the second MSO ArtPlay Ensemble project for the year and it was a beauty. The ensemble of 28 children and 3 Melbourne Symphony Orchestra musicians convened yesterday morning at 10am to start exploring and developing musical ideas in response to the Ottorino Respighi orchestral work The Pines of Rome. By 3pm today we had a freshly-created piece of music, 15 minutes in duration, to perform to our waiting audience.

These projects have been running since 2006 now (with a new ensemble of children each year). The children are selected for their ability to respond to a collaborative creative process, and every year we find ourselves with a very imaginative, thoughtful bunch.

The Pines of Rome is a very vivid symphonic work. Respighi is creating images for his audience – scenes of Rome from his era (1924) and from the days of ancient Rome. The four movements of the work depict specific scenes – children playing under the pines in the gardens of the Villa Borghese; lonely pines near the Roman catacombs with the voices of monks rising up – perhaps present, or perhaps a ghostly echo; the hill of Janiculum (dedicated to the Roman god Janus, god of beginnings and transitions), pale in the moonlight and accompanied by a nightingale singing; and the pines of the mighty Appian Way, the great Roman military road, remembering the footsteps of long-gone armies.

Before gathering on Monday, I invited the children to listen to the Respighi music and draw or paint something in response. Many of them did this. One mother said, “Creating this artwork was such a novel and beautiful suggestion for a child to be introduced to new music.”

There were many responses. Pictured here are the four paintings by Ella H, using acrylic paints layered thickly so that the scenes are rich and densely textured.

The Pines of the Villa Borghese

The Pines Near a Catacomb

The Pines of the Janiculum

The Pines of The Appian Way

Another child drew a nightingale singing against a full moon, carefully creating the feathers with thin coloured pencil strokes, beautifully blended. Another child chose to depict the catacombs, framing her picture with looming pines, with the catacombs entrance a small door set into the side of a hill, approached by a steep set of stairs.

One of the ensemble’s clarinettists took a different approach, letting her hand be guided by her mind as she listened to the music. Her images were expressive and abstract, showing loops and swirls, intense periods of darkness, followed by openness and light.

These composing projects only go for 2 days, and are a complete immersion. There isn’t really any time to take the ideas in the artwork further. But this exercise – suggested for this project as an optional extra for those that like to express themselves visually – reveals the many ways there are for exploring a new piece of music with children aged 9-13 years.

1 comment so far

  1. […] here for a description of the Ensemble’s Pines of Rome project, July […]


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