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About Peter and the Wolf
Peter and the Wolf is a symphonic folk tale written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. In 1936, he was commissioned to write a musical story for children by Natalya Sats, the director of the Moscow Central Children’s Theatre. The intent was to introduce children to individual instruments in the orchestra. As a narrator tells the story, the orchestra highlights the characters with musical themes by using four specific instrument families: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
The Story of Peter and the Wolf:
Peter is walking through a green meadow and sees his friends the Bird chirping about. His friend the duck comes by and takes a swim in the pond. The bird and the duck argue about whether birds should fly or swim.
Then, Peter notices a Cat walking through the grass. The Cat tries to pounce on the Bird, but Peter warns his friend the the Bird flies into a tree. The Duck is safe in the pond.
Peter’s Grandfather comes out of the house and warns Peter not to go into the meadow. “There are Wolves in the meadow,” he says. He takes Peter back to the house and locks the gate.
Then, a Wolf comes out of the forest. The Cat climbs safely into the tree, but the Duck can’t run fast enough. The Wolf catches the Duck and swallows him in one gulp.
Peter sees the wolf eat his friend and thinks of a plan. He gets a rope, makes a lasso, climbs the wall, and throws the lasso over the tree branch. The Bird flies down and the Wolf chases it right into Peter’s trap. Now they’ve got him!
A group of Hunters looking for the Wolf comes out of the forest. They shoot at the wolf, but Peter says “Don’t shoot! Birdie and I have already caught the wolf. Now help us take him to the zoo.”
Peter, the Hunters, and his friends take the Wolf to the zoo in a triumphant procession. His Grandfather says “Well, if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf, what then?” The Bird says “My, what brave fellows we are, Peter and I! Look what we have caught!” And, very quietly, you can hear the Duck quacking from inside the Wolf, because in its hurry the Wolf had swallowed the Duck whole!
The Characters of Peter and the Wolf
Each character in Peter and the Wolf is represented by a different instrument:
- Peter by the Strings
- The Bird by the Flute
- The Duck by the Oboe
- The Cat by the Clarinet
- The Grandfather by the Bassoon
- The Wolf by the French Horns
- The Hunters by the Timpani (or Kettle Drums)
Peter – The Strings
Peter is played by the the instruments of the String Family. The string section includes the violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses. His melody is most often played by the violin.
The string family is the largest section in the orchestra. It takes lots of string instruments to make a sound that’s loud enough to be heard with the other instrument families. All of the strings are all made of wood and have a curvy shape. The violin is the smallest and highest pitched instrument. The viola, cello, and double bass are progressively larger and lower pitched.
All string instruments have strings stretched over them. They are played with a bow that is pulled or pushed across the strings. The bow is a long stick with hair stretched across it. When the bow hair is pulled against the strings, it creates friction that causes the strings to vibrate. The strings can also be plucked with the finger, and this is called “pizzicato.”
The Harp is also a part of the string family, but it does not appear in Peter and the Wolf. It harp has 47 strings that are plucked with fingers. Though it is almost never seen in an orchestra, the guitar is also a member of the string family.
The Woodwind Family
The Bird, the Duck, the Cat, and Peter’s Grandfather are all played by instruments in the Woodwind Family. These instruments usually look like long sticks and are sometimes made of wood. They are each played slightly differently, and the different shape and materials of each instrument help to create its own unique sound. The orchestra often has two, three, or four of each woodwind instrument. They regularly play solos because they each have a unique sound that can be heard over the other instruments.
The Saxophone and Recorder are only rarely a part of the orchestra.
The Bird – The Flute
The Bird is portrayed by the flute. The flute is a member of the woodwind family, but it is usually made of metal. It is played horizontally, has lots of keys, and makes light and airy high notes. Its closest relative is the piccolo, which is smaller and plays higher notes. Because the two instruments are so similar, most flute players can also play the piccolo. There are also bigger versions of the flute, like the bass flute, but they are not usually found in the orchestra.
The flute has a light and airy sound. It can play very high and incredibly fast. In Peter and the Wolf, the flute plays more notes than any other instrument as it flies all around the music.
The flute and the piccolo are some of the highest instruments in the orchestra. Because of their range and their airy sound, composers almost always use the flute to portray a bird in music.
The Duck – The Oboe
The Duck is portrayed by the oboe. The oboe is a member of the woodwind family and it is played vertically. The player blows between two reeds to make its sound, so it is called a “double-reed” instrument. Oboes are usually made of wood, and they can play in a high or low range.
The oboe has a mellow or nasal-like sound. It can play both fast, happy music and slow, sad music. In Peter and the Wolf the oboe uses its middle range to play the duck, and its higher range to play sad music when the Duck is swallowed by the Wolf.
At the beginning of a concert, the orchestra must tune their instruments together. Because the sound of the oboe is nasal-like, it is easy to hear it throughout the entire orchestra, so the oboe gives the note for everybody to tune to. Almost every orchestra concert starts with the sound of an oboe.
The Cat – The Clarinet
The Cat is portrayed by the clarinet. The clarinet is a member of the woodwind family, and like the oboe it is played vertically. Clarinets are usually made of black wood, and can play high and very low. The player blows over only one reed to make its sound, so it is called a “single-reed” instrument. Another instrument that only has one reed is the saxophone. The clarinet and the saxophone are somewhat similar, so some clarinet players can play both.
The clarinet has a sweet sound, and is very good at playing both fast notes and beautiful melodies. In Peter and the Wolf, the clarinet portrays the cat by playing a bouncing melody in its lower range. It is very good at playing sneaky characters in music, so it can be used to play cats, jesters, or even witches.
There are two other versions of the clarinet that sometimes appear in the orchestra: the Bass-Clarinet and the Eb-Clarinet. The Bass-Clarinet is a very big, very low version of the clarinet used for sweet low melodies. The Eb-Clarinet is a tiny version of the clarinet used for very high or quick melodies.
Peter’s Grandfather – The Bassoon
Peter’s Grandfather is portrayed by the bassoon. The bassoon is the lowest member of the woodwind family, and is much bigger than the other instruments. Because of its large size and unique shape, the bassoon is played to the side. You can see its bell sticking out above the woodwind section like a chimney.
Just like the oboe, the bassoon is a “double-reed” instrument, so it also has a sound that can either be rough or sweet. Because of its unique sound, it will sometimes play the role of a clown. In Peter and the Wolf, the bassoon portrays Peter’s grandfather by playing a grumpy melody in its lower range.
While the bassoon is the lowest member of the woodwind family, the contra-bassoon is its even-lower cousin. It can play notes so low that you almost can’t hear them. And its so big that it has to use a stand to rest on the ground. Both instruments can play by themselves, play with the rest of the woodwinds, or play with the cellos and basses.
The Brass Family
The instruments of the Brass Family are made of brass. Brass players produce sound by buzzing their lips together on the surface of the instrument’s mouthpiece. This section includes the trumpet, the French horn, the trombone, and the tuba. The orchestra usually has one to four of each brass instrument, and sometimes more.
Brass instruments are very loud. For this reason, they are often used in military bands, which play outdoors much of the time. They can also play very quietly, but usually composers will use them for the power that the entire brass family can bring when they play together.
Brass instruments are long metal tubes that open at one end. The tubes are bent and coiled into compact shapes so they can be held more easily.
The Wolf – The French Horns
The Wolf is portrayed by three French Horns. The French Horn (or just Horn) is a member of the brass family of instruments. It is one of the most versatile instruments in the orchestra, and Horn players are exceptional being a soloist, playing in a small group, or playing with the full orchestra. The horn is made of a long, coiled tube with a large bell at the end. Players set it on their lap and place one hand on the valves and one hand in the bell.
The horn’s sound is can be mellow and smooth or loud and brash. In Peter and the Wolf, three horns work together to play the dark and scary music of the Wolf.
The horn only has 3 or 4 valves, so how does a player make so many different notes? Brass players can change the notes of their instruments by buzzing in different ways. Early brass instruments were simply a long tube with no way to change notes, much like a hunting horn, so players had to shape their lips and buzz in different ways to create different notes. Modern instruments have valves that allow them to reach even more notes.
The Percussion Family
The Percussion Family is the most diverse family of the orchestra. It can include common instruments like drums and the triangle, or stranger instruments like the kazoo and the wind machine. Some percussion instruments can play different notes, like the xylophone or timpani. And some percussion instruments cannot, like the triangle, tambourine, or snare drum. Because of the variety of sounds they can produce, composers will use percussion instruments to add sound effects or rhythm to a piece of music.
Percussionists have a very difficult job because they don’t learn just one instrument like everybody else. They have to learn how to play everything! There’s no such thing as percussionist who only plays the triangle.
The piano is technically a percussion instrument, but it is usually played by a pianist, not a percussionist.
The Hunters – The Timpani (or Kettle Drums)
The Hunters are portrayed by the Timpani, or Kettle Drums. The Timpani are a member of the percussion family. They are a group of large brass bowls with a drum head. The Timpani have a foot pedal connected to the heads, which allows a player to raise or lower the pitch of the Timpani. You can usually see 3 or 4 Timpani surrounding the player in an orchestra. Having this many drums lets them switch between notes quickly without having to tune the instruments each time.
The timpani can play softly or loudly. They can give a steady beat, a soft rumble, or be hit very hard to make a huge boom. The timpani player hits the timpani with mallets, and the mallets can be made of different types of wool, wood, plastic, or other materials to make different sounds with the drums.
In Peter and the Wolf, many different percussion instruments get to join the orchestra. Along with the Timpani, you will hear the triangle, tambourine, cymbals, castanets, snare drum, and bass drum.
Download the Activity Guide
Go one step further with our Program and Activity Guide, featuring extra information on Peter and the Wolf, plus printable activities like a word search, crossword puzzle, and letter jumbles.
The Fort Collins Symphony
The Fort Collins Symphony is the oldest arts organization and the only professional symphony orchestra in Larimer County. For decades, this orchestra has enriched lives, shaped the musical landscape of Northern Colorado, and served as an enduring cornerstone of our region’s cultural foundation. Its mission is to perform spectacular live orchestral music and host educational events as a means of inspiring, bringing joy, and providing an environment that is entertaining, nurturing, and inclusive for all residents of and visitors to Northern Colorado. The nonprofit FCS is governed by a board of directors, employs over 50 musicians and seven staff members, and is assisted by many volunteers. Thirty-one professional musicians play in the Peter and the Wolf performance.
Maestro Wes Kenney, Conductor
Maestro Wes Kenney has served as the Fort Collins Symphony conductor and music director since 2003. His interest in music started at an early age. After attending a performance of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man with its signature song “76 Trombones,” he was inspired to take up this brass instrument. This eventually led to a full-time career in music when he decided to study conducting. Mr. Kenney is an internationally recognized and award-winning conductor. He regularly conducts the Fort Collins Symphony, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Opera Fort Collins, Canyon Concert Ballet’s Nutcracker, and is the Director of Orchestras at Colorado State University where he is also a professor of music and teaches conducting. Additional information about Kenney’s career, awards, and interests can be found here.
Scott Wheeler, Narrator
Scott Wheeler, a fifth generation Coloradan and Fort Collins’ native, has taught music and drama in the Poudre School District (PSD) since 1997. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree from CSU and his Masters of Music from UNC. Currently, he teaches at Kinard Core Knowledge and is a National Board Certified Music Teacher. As a singer, French hornist, actor, and musician, he has experience performing and working throughout the United States and Europe. In 2015, Mr. Wheeler played the title role in Shrek the Musical with the FC Children’s Theatre at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center.
Canyon Concert Ballet
The 15 dancers who play the characters in this Peter and the Wolf production are from Fort Collins’ own Canyon Concert Ballet. This premier regional ballet company and its school provide both exceptional performance opportunities and outstanding dance education. Founded in 1979, CCB produces full- length classical and contemporary ballet performances each year, including: The Nutcracker, a Spring fairytale-themed production, and one or more intimate contemporary concerts at smaller venues. To learn more, visit: www.ccballet.org/
Peter and the Wolf, a program of music and education designed for the young and the young & heart, is presented by the Friends of the Symphony. Each spring, the Friends of the Symphony hosts the Musical Zoo, an exciting in-person program of music and education designed for the young and the young at heart.
This annual live event features various activities designed to help participants learn about a wide variety of music, especially traditional symphonic instruments and non-orchestral instruments from around the world. The event includes:
- A hands-on instrumental “Petting Zoo” that allows children to observe, hold, and try out various instruments.
- Short instrumental and choral performances showcasing a wealth of musical genres by regional middle school, high school, university, and community ensembles.
- A Grand Finale that brings participants together for a child-friendly performance by the professional musicians of the Fort Collins Symphony, a narrator, and dancers from the Canyon Concert Ballet.
During non-pandemic times, the Friends of the Symphony’s Musical Zoo event has included more than 300 musicians, guides, and volunteers from all walks of life.
This year’s Musical Zoo 2021 is an “animal of a different stripe.” Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s experience will be an abbreviated and virtual online production. The performance was pre-recorded in a safe, socially-distanced location. Conducted by Maestro Wes Kenney, the Fort Collins Symphony will play Sergei Prokofiev’s popular children’s musical tale, Peter and the Wolf, complete with narration by Scott Wheeler and dancers from Canyon Concert Ballet.