Dvorak in America
in search of the new world

a National Endowment for the Humanities Project
with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra


Kaii Lee



Based on the notion that Antonin Dvorak, as a mediator, recommended that American music should be composed with American material or theme, such as the negro spirituals and American folksongs, this project would be focused on the use of the spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and Stephen Foster’s song, “Susanna”.

First, the purpose of this project is to introduce various musical rhythmic patterns to 4th through 6th grade vocal students by utilizing the spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. Furthermore, by rewriting the lyrics with their own lives and daily experience, students could bring the song closer to their hearts.

When the process of the rhythmic patterns learning comes to an end, students will be able to determine how many sounds (syllables) are there in each phrase. Therefore, to rewrite the lyrics becomes an easy assignment. With the students’ own experience, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” will become a 21st century song instantly.

The second part of this project, through Stephen Foster’s “Susanna”, is to introduce the melodic system, the intervals (the distance between any two tones) within the major/minor keys and pentatonic scales. After acquiring an understanding of the intonation of “Susanna”, students will then compose their own version with a new melody to accompany the original lyrics of “Susanna”.



The musical rhythm is made with long and short silence and sound. Through these activities, students will understand the differences between a basic unit of one beat and its sub-divisions, and some of the variations. (See “Rhythm Break Down”).

The melodic system involves intonations that repeat, ascend or descend in directions. And, the tones can be arranged in unison (one tone repetition), step (neighboring tones), or skip (two tones with one or more other tones in between them). Through these activities, students will understand that a melody is simply made from intonations arranged in a specific order.

The ultimate goal of these activities is for students to perform their compositions during a school concert.



These exercises will address the following California State Standards according to the Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools:

Strands Grades
California Content Standards
Read, write, and perform simple melodic notation in treble clef in major Keys. 
Read, write, and perform rhythmic notation, including quarter-note triplets and tied syncopation. 
Sing a repertoire of vocal literature representing various genres, styles, and cultures with expression, technical accuracy, good posture, tone quality, and vowel shape—written and memorized, by oneself and in ensembles (level of difficulty: 1 on a scale of 1–6).  
Sing music written in two parts.  
Compose short pieces in duple and triple meters. 



Describe the social functions of a variety of musical forms from various cultures and time periods (e.g., folk songs, dances). 
Develop criteria for evaluating the quality and effectiveness of musical performances and compositions, including arrangements and improvisations, and apply the criteria in personal listening and performing.  
Describe the characteristics that make a performance a work of art.  
Describe how knowledge of music connects to learning in other subject areas.  


The time required for these activities will be as followed:

1. Studying rhythmic patterns and intonations: 40 minutes (one lesson)
2. Practicing rhythmic patterns and intonations: 120 minutes (3 lessons)
3. Rewriting lyrics and melody: one week (assigned as homework)
4. Singing original spiritual and new version/adapted lyrics: 10 weeks
5. Performing complete work at a school concert

Collaborative Components

Language art and social study teachers could be invited to participate in this project as a cross-curriculum activity. While studying rhythmic patterns, a math component of division could be included as well.


Daily Time line

Steps Sequence Time/Minutes
Start with physical stretching exercises
Go through vocal warm-ups
Do rhythmic patterns exercises
Debrief certain daily topics
Practice solfege singing
Rehearse concert songs


List of "Brick Words"

Time Signature
Kodaly, Zoltan
Dvorak, Antonin
Foster, Stephen
Burleigh, Harry



1. Pass out all required material for these activities to students:

a. Rhythm Break Down & “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”
b. Melody Build Up & “Susanna”.

2. Have students look over each page and familiarize with the sheets.
3. Explain the function of time signature (C for this song).
4. Explain rhythm is made with long and short silence and sound, by using quarter note as the basic unit and eighth notes are the sub-divisions.
5. Practice basic rhythmic pulse by clapping each quarter note once.
6. Practice sub-division evenly by clapping twice within the duration of a quarter note.
7. Listen to “American Suite” 3rd movement (16th and 32nd notes) opening and middle section (quarter and eighth notes). Ask students to determine the note value in each example. Give answers to the above question.
8. Have students look at “Rhythm Break Down” to find the top line “Simple/Straight”. Explain the concept of a measure (a fundamental unit of time into which all music is divided, according to the number of beats).
9. Compare the rhythmic pattern of the “American Suite” example to “Symphony No. 9, ‘from the New World’” first movement opening.
10. Clap each measure at least four times to secure the understanding of quarter note and half note.
11. Explain the relationship between the quarter note and eighth note and clap the eighth note measure, next to “Sub-Division”, at least four times.
12. Explain the use of dotted rhythm and clap dotted half note follow by a quarter rest or a quarter note.
13. Explain and clap syncopation (a rhythmic technique in music which the accent is shifted to a weak beat of the measure).
14. Demonstrate “tie” with various patterns, as seen in “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”.
15. Explain and compare dotted half and dotted quarter notes.
16. Explain how rhythmic patterns are simply made with manipulated long and short silence and sound. Have students clap examples 1A through 7C at least four times each measure, in order and/or randomly. Select individuals or small group of students to clap for the class to check for understanding and accuracy. This may serve as an on-going formative assessment.
17. Determine the numbers of notes (sound, syllables) in each phrase.
18. Explain the rhyming structure in the song.
19. Assign lyrics writing (with limited numbers of possible syllable change) as a weeklong homework. Put more verses on another sheet of paper if necessary.
20. When students return with the new versions, sing each new verse in class.
21. In the meantime, explain the melodic system involves intonations that repeat, ascend or descend in any direction. And, the tones can be arranged in unison (a single tone only repetition), step-wise (neighboring tones, such as major and minor scales), or skip (two tones with one or more other tones in between them), and analyze intervals, diatonic and pentatonic scales (See Melody Build Up).
22. With Kodaly hand signs and solfege, have students sing each individual tone first, then pairs of neighboring tones, and finally, all the different intervals including all the skips.
23. Point out the difference between a half-step and a whole-step.
24. Listen to “American Suite” first movement opening for the pentatonic scale. Point out the first diatonic moment. Explain the use of different intervals in major and minor keys.
25. Listen to “Symphony No. 9, ‘from the New World’” fourth movement opening for all the possible intervals that Dvorak used.
26. Have students look at “Susanna” to follow the pentatonic scale and point out the diatonic moment (highlighted in blue). Sing the first verse of “Susanna”.
27. Assign melody writing (including extended range of tones and possible rhythm changes) as another weeklong homework. The new melody could be written on the staff lines under the original melody.
28. When students return with the new versions, sing each new composition in class.
29. Select several new verses to add to the originals and perform them in the school concert. Now, arrange (by teacher) for two-part singing and rehearse them!


Music sheets Required

1. Rhythm Break Down
2. Nobody knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
3. Melody Build Up
4. Susanna


Homework Song List

Spirituals Folk Songs
Deep River Old Folks At Home
Goin’ Home Shenandoah
My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord The Erie Canal
Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain
Every Time I Feel the Spirit Ching a Ring Chaw (Minstrel-1833)
Music Down In My Soul How Can I Keep From Singing? (Quaker)
My Lord, What a Mornin’ Clementine
Oh, Freedom Cindy
Follow the Drinking Gourd Simple Gift
Ezekiel Saw the Wheel Turkey In the Straw


Possible Concert Program

Et Exultavit (J.S. Bach)
If I Could Catch a Rainbow
Some Folks………………………………….4th Grade

Humoresque, Op.101, No.4 (Dovrak)…...Elani Albright

Every Time I Feel the Spirit
Embrace the Music
Sasa Kroma………………………………….5th Grade

American Suite, Op.98, No. 4…………….Howard Chang

Away From the Roll of the Sea
Con Te Partiro………………………………6th Grade

For We Wish You Music……………………All Grades





Dvorak in America Quiz




“ American Folksongs and Spirituals” –Published by Hal Leonard
“ Stephen Collins Foster: Sixty Favorite Songs”, by Stephen Foster (Bill's Music Shelf)
“ Symphony No.9, ‘From the New World’” by Antonin Dvorak
“ American Suite, Op. 98” by Antonin Dvorak
“ Dvorak in America”, by Joseph Horowitz
“ Classical Music in America”, by Joseph Horowitz
“ From the New World”, an interactive DVD, by Robert Winter & Peter Bogdanoff



“Content Standards - Standards & Frameworks” (CA Dept of Education)- http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/mumain.asp
“ Antonin Dvorak”– Naxos Classical Music- http://www.naxos.com/person/Antonin_Dvorak/26024.htm
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra- http://www.pittsburghsymphony.org
Pacific Symphony Orchestra- http://www.pacificsymphony.org
IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library- http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page
Voices Across Time- http://www.voicesacrosstime.org
The American Spiritual Ensemble- http://americanspiritualensemble.com
Negro Spirituals- http://www.negrospirituals.com
Popular Songs in American History- http://www.contemplator.com/america



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