Classical Music for Halloween

It's no secret that I've never met a Saint-Saens piece I didn't love. I've blogged about him and his works here, here, and here. Students also love his pieces because they're so easy to listen to and use some amazing imagery. He's by far one of my favorite composers for introducing classical music to children. 

But as much as I looooooove Saint-Saens, I do have a confession to make: 

I'm not too crazy about Halloween.

There. I said it.

I've never been one for scary movies. I have an aversion to being scared out of my wits by a spooky ghost story. Hauntings, witches, zombies popping out of nowhere. . . just not my thing. 

That said, I've never protested to eating my weight in Halloween candy. (I suppose the holiday isn't that bad after all.)

Many of our students enjoy all things spooky and scary but some students can be really bothered by it. With that in mind I work to find a balance between the two types of students. Perhaps that's another reason why I love Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre so much. 

It's creepy for sure, as any song about Death dancing with skeletons should be. But the music is also so fun and clever it's hard not to love it.

Classical Music Activity for Halloween

About the Piece: 

If you aren't familiar with this piece already, Saint-Saens based it off of a poem by Henri Cazalis. Here is the translation: 

Zig-a-zig-a-zig it's the Rhythm of Death!
Death at midnight playing a dance tune,
Zig-a-zig-a-zig on his violin.
The winter wind whistles and the night is dark.
The winter wind whistles and the lime trees moan.
Weird white skeletons streak across the shadows
Running and leaping wrapped in their shrouds.
Zig-a-zig-a-zig the dance grows even wilder
You can hear the eerie clatter of the dancers' bones
But wait! Suddenly they all stop dancing.
They scatter, they vanish for the cock has crowed.


Saint-Saens does an amazing job of painting the imagery in this poem with his music. As you listen you can hear the howl of the wind, the dancing of the skeletons, and the rooster crowing before the skeletons leave. 

Take a Listen!

The Game:

For this game you'll need a violin bow. (If you don't have one, use a rhythm stick and just pretend!)

You'll also need to be pretty fimiliar with the piece, or at least have a good idea of what to listen for.

  • (0:25)To begin the game, all students stand drooped over, like sleeping skeletons.
  • The teacher (playing the part of Death) will slide through the graveyard as the song begins, holding her violin bow and looking at the sleeping skeletons. 
  • (0:50) When the melody of the song begins, the teacher will wake up the skeletons one by one by tapping them on the shoulder with her hand as she dances through the graveyard.
  • As the skeletons wake up they'll fall in line behind the teacher and copy her dance motions. 
  • (Since the piece is a little long you might consider passing off the bow to a new student to become Death and lead the dance.)
  • (6:57) When the rooster crows at the end of the piece (played by the oboe) the skeletons freeze and the teacher touches them on the shoulder again to make them fall back asleep.

This is a super simple game and very easy to play, as long as you're familiar with the piece. Your kids will love it!

Let me know how it goes!