The Story Behind The Music

Rocio Behler, German studies graduate assistant, uses music to encourage language learning.

She begins her classes by presenting students with background information on composers and music they have written: all in German.

“I usually play the music without showing them the name of the composer and ask them to name the composer. I am surprised that so far, most of my students can recognize compositions written by Beethoven, Mozart and Richard Wagner,” said Behler.

Her method fuels the imagination of her students and heightens their interest in language learning.

“I like to connect with my students and I try to encourage them to do their best by showing them the joys of learning a second language. It warms my heart to see them laugh and have a good time while learning,” added Behler.

Her fascination with music and language learning began as a young girl. Behler has been a pianist since the age of six. During her musical evolution, she has been introduced to some amazing composers.

At the age of 12, she began learning and interpreting music from of German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. She fell in love with the idea of learning music in German. 

“I remember specifically working with the song cycle called “Dichterliebe” written by Robert Schumann. I was fascinated with the pronunciation of the words,” said Behler.

Her greatest challenge was trying to find the meaning behind the words as she played. Although she translated the compositions word by word into Spanish, her native language, Behler could not grasp the magnitude of the message behind the music. She was determined to learn German.

Her journey to musical and language discovery led her to the University of Arkansas in 2009, and fueled her research interests.

She recently presented a paper titled, “The Story Behind the Music,” at Queen’s University Cultural Studies Graduate Conference.

“The faculty of the German program taught me how to analyze and formulate ideas for my research,” said Behler.

The purpose of the paper was to illustrate what it would make to know the literature behind the musical compositions; the research primarily focused on classical musicians.

During her presentation, she used two musical pieces, Mephisto Waltz No. 1 and Liebestraum No. 3, both pieces were based on poems.

“I presented examples to show the impact of knowing the literature and message behind each poem, and how this would affect the musicians’ interpretation,” said Behler. “While practicing program music, most of them do not analyze the literature behind the music that the composer used as his source of inspiration. Thus, they can miss important prompts that can help them perform the piece.”

The paper was written in the summer of 2016 under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Hoyer, associate professor of German.

Behler said the faculty of the German program encouraged her to formulate her research ideas with an ‘critical eye.’

“They helped me to think beyond what I read and to dig deeper into theories,” she added.