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George Frederic Handel is one of my favorites. We’ve talked about him several times this year already:
- In April, for Worthy is The Lamb
- In July, for Music for the Royal Fireworks
- In October, for Zadok the Priest
And the big daddy of them all is coming in December, when we will bust out the Hallelujah Chorus and sing it at the top of our lungs, the alto part, of course. (Oh. Just me?)
But before we dive headlong into Handel’s signature piece next month, let’s cover one that is lesser known, but really fun for kids.
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is from Handel’s oratorio Solomon.
Quick review: an oratorio is similar to an opera, but without the costumes and sets. It tells a narrative story, usually from the Bible. Handel was a pioneer in the genre, and The Messiah is, by far, his most famous. But he wrote a lot of them.
Solomon is based on biblical stories from 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles, and this piece takes place when the Queen of Sheba comes to visit the King, seeking his wisdom. Let’s review (excerpts from I Kings 10, NIV):
When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.
She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”
And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon…
…King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.”
Ok, so now you have all the info you need to understand this piece! Classical music becomes super easy to follow just knowing little about the context and purpose for its composition. Handel is setting the scene musically for the arrival of a great monarch, and you can hear it in the music.
Knowing the background, give it a listen:
This is a quick, joyful quick piece. It is easy to picture the grand queen approaching Solomon with her generous gifts, anticipating learning from his wisdom. In fact, this piece does double duty because it makes the biblical passage come to life in a new way as well. Your kids may have never heard this bible story before, but I bet they will remember it after attaching it this great piece of music.
Want to take it to the next level? Try some Role-Playing! I love having my students reenact this piece. They take turns playing the roles of the Queen and Solomon. I have the Queens come up with difficult questions for the Solomons and everyone laughs at how hard or silly the questions turn out to be. We play the music in the background and have a great time in the process. Try it!
…when classical music shows up in fun, unexpected places…
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was featured in the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremonies sequence involving Her Majesty and James Bond. Youtube won’t let me embed this one, so just click HERE. (Arrival starts about 12 seconds in, segueing to Music for the Royal Fireworks at the 1:40 mark. The Brits love their Handel).
Finally, some Classical Music Education Math for you:
James Bond + Handel (x The Olympics) =
Excellent use of classical music (+ pop culture)
As opposed to creepy baby, which scarred me forever.
Enjoy this fun piece!
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