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Ten Pieces - John Adams
Did John Adams write 'Gnarly Buttons'?

Ten Pieces - John Adams

To complement the BBC Ten Pieces, we have a KS2 Music quiz all about the modern American composer, John Adams.

John Adams is a composer of classical music and opera. At a young age, he was drawn to the sound of minimalism by composers such as Philip Glass. His themes are as diverse as the former American president Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972; the building of the first atomic bomb; and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

He was won many awards for his music and still composes to this day. Keep an ear out for his new work - you might just love it!

What do you know about this modern composer? You may have heard, or heard of, more of his music than you think!

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1.
Adams is clearly comfortable writing for large forces (e.g. an orchestra) but also for much smaller ones such as just two pianists. Often he will base a complete piece on a single simple musical idea that he explores through very gentle, gradual repeated steps ~ like (dare we say) a much less insistent version of Beethoven with his Fifth Symphony opening movement around 200 years ago. What is the musicological label for this mode of composition?
Simplicity
Minimalism
Frugality
Economusic
Many other minimalist composers have been exploring how much music can be made from the simplest of starting materials: you might like to widen your research to sample works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
2.
Which of these other topics is NOT (so far as we know) the basis for a significant composition by John Adams?
The liberation of the Nazi extermination camps at the end of World War 2
The '9/11' New York terrorist attacks and their victims
The killing of a handicapped hi-jack hostage by terrorists
The building of the first atom bomb/s
Any good biography of Adams, online or elsewhere, should fill you in on these remarkable, mood-of-the-moment-catching works. In our modern age where news travels so fast and stories are so global, it is wonderful to know that so significant a musician is creating thoughtful responses that help audiences to ponder the issues.
3.
Adams' middle name is the same as the surname of a former US President: which one?
Nixon
Carter
Reagan
Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge was the Republican president during the 1920s (in the run-up to the Wall Street Crash). Our other three potential answers each refer to presidents already alive by the time Adams was born; he wrote an opera about Nixon (more on this later). There had of course also been a President called John Quincy Adams ... about 100 years prior to that again, in the 1820s ... covering (as it happens) the death-years of both Beethoven and Schubert.
4.
Adams has given many of his compositions unusual titles that whet people's curiosity. Only ONE of the following is NOT a genuine Adams work: which one?
Hallelujah Junction
Freeway Butterfly
I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky
Gnarly Buttons
There are many others worth exploring instead of this fake one!
5.
In 2003 Adams was awarded a particularly prestigious prize: which was it?
A Pulitzer Prize
A Nobel Prize
The President's Congressional Medal
The 'Oscar' for Best Film Score
This was in recognition of his '9/11' work, On the Transmigration of Souls. The Pulitzer is usually awarded for the written word (journalism, novels etc.) so this was noticeably unusual, not least since many writers would also have had their say about the same original events.
6.
Before he turned 30 he had built a new instrument of his own and was exploring its musical possibilities: what instrument was this?
An electronic organ
An analogue synthesiser
A computerised guitar
A remote-controlled grand piano
The world of 'artificial' music (i.e. using sounds that no existing acoustic instrument could make) was very exciting in those days of the 1970s and 80s ... before we quite had computers in such power and profusion as we do now.
7.
How did Adams celebrate his 60th birthday?
Taking 'a short ride in a fast machine'
Conducting his own work with the American Composers Orchestra
Hiking and fishing in the Adirondacks
On tour with his chamber ensemble in the Far East
By all accounts he acquitted himself well in this role, and his fellow-composers were full of joy and respect to be working with him.
8.
Although Adams was probably destined for musical greatness, it's rather nice to confirm whereabouts in the US he grew up, with its appropriate name. In what town did he attend high-school?
Concord, New Hampshire
Harmony, Missouri
Symphony, Maine
Tunesville, Ohio
'Concord' in its technical sense means 'the sounding of two pitches which combine pleasingly' (as opposed to discord, of course).
9.
What was Adams' original instrument, as a performer in his own right?
Saxophone
Clarinet
Viola
Trombone
This instrument potentially allowed him entry into both classical and jazz circles.
10.
Adams has never flinched from writing music (opera and other works) referring to raw and recent historical events. What was the title of his opera about the later-disgraced US president Richard Nixon?
Tricky Dickie
Dickie goes to Hollywood
Nixon in China
The Watergate Tapes
This refers to Nixon's diplomatic trip in 1972 (very shortly before the Watergate scandal broke).

 

Author:  Ian Miles

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