Peter and the wolf

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: Peter and the Wolf Linocut by James Mayhew

Peter and the Wolf, illustration by James Mayhew


The silence engendered when listening to music, a still coming-together and sense of unity-in-beauty, is more necessary today than it has ever been. The concert hall is a place of meaning and community, a world detached from the everyday, a beacon of the ultimate and sublime things which still unite humanity, a public home for all the things which still serve to bind strangers closely and necessarily together.

Music and its hinterland encompasses listening and composing, reading and discussion, dancing, performing, looking and drawing; it demands our precious attention, our intellect, and our emotions; but it’s available in all its generosity to everyone with an open mind and an open heart.

In this booklet and in its associated project, we seek to help young people and their teachers find a way into music through listening, through composing, through art and narrative — to bind children together with ideas and release in them creativity and expression.

If we’re dealing with the timeless and the good, and we accept that story-telling brings humanity together in the co-operative action which sets us apart as a species, then myth and folk-tales, ancient and merely old, are a perfect place to start.

This booklet starts with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and the 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. These brilliant works synthesise music, art, and narrative. They are masterpieces of musical communication, of teaching, too.

We then show how other myths and folk-tales — many, but not all, with a Russian slant — might be used as a stimulus for composition. We introduce simple techniques which can be used to help children start to build both confidence and compositional technique. We take the fable of the snow-maiden, Snegurochka, and demonstrate how it might be used to inspire musical genesis. We talk about adapting stories for the use of children, about musical elements, about rhythm and melody, about soundscapes, song-writing, and graphic scores. Such work should cross the curriculum, and we suggest how painting to music might be a class activity. The remainder of the booklet introduces six stories which we propose as the basis of exploring music through stories.

Our project will end with an concert in the Ruddock concert hall at King Edward’s. In its first half, six schools will perform their compositions to each other, linked by singing. The canon we will sing together to link the performances may be downloaded below. It fulfils many of the aims of the National Curriculum in music. The second half will be performances of Peter and the Wolf and The Firebird, by the unique symphony orchestra shared by King Edward’s School and King Edward VI High School for Girls. This project is part of the outreach work of King Edward’s School.

The materials here are aimed at Year 5, but some are suitable for much-younger children.

We hope that work inspired by this work will give children an introduction to the wonderful possibilities of the arts and of music. When your pupils create great things using it, we ask only that you share their achievements with us.

Keith Farr
Martin Leigh (
James Mayhew (

Peter and the Wolf, the music
Exploring music through stories — a PDF of the themes and characters in Peter and the Wolf
Firebird, the music
Exploring music through stories — a composition project — a PDF of our canon

Using stories to inspire children’s compositions
Stage 1 — the story
The elements of music
Stage 2 — developing a rhythmic piece
Stage 3 — developing a melody
Stage 4 — creating a soundscape
Stage 5 — creating a song
Stage 6 — graphic scores
Painting to music

The stories
Hansel & Gretel
Baba Yaga
Peer Gynt
The Snow-maiden

A PDF download of the entire project:
Exploring music through stories — a composition project

A power-point from the first workshop is posted here:

Peter and the wolf, workshop presentation (1)

A documentary of our project, directed by Wai Ho Chui (KES 2019)