La Boheme composition guide for teachers.


1. Towards the end of La Boheme, Rodolfo and Mimi share their last moments together. It's one of those great poignant scenes that opera does so brilliantly, and that Puccini does so simply. Here's how to create an original three part 'Farewell' ballad with your class, inspired by the same chords that Puccini's uses in La boheme.

First – divide your class into three groups. Ask each group to form a circle in different parts of the room.

Film clip of the class standing in 3 groups, in different parts of the hall.

Each groups' task is to come up with 2 sentences that someone might say if they were saying goodbye to someone they really liked for the last time.

Film clip of children trying out sentences.

Once the groups have their sentences, ask them to practice chanting the text in unison, and to invent actions that go with the words. When they've mastered that, ask the groups to perform their sentences to each other.

Film clip of children chanting in unison with actions.

2. Either on a keyboard or from the recording, play Puccini's chord sequence to the class. Sing short and simple improvised phrases to your class, and ask them to sing the phrase back to you. For example:

Film clip of Dominic improvising short phrases that the class sing back.

You've just demonstrated to your class that all kinds of sounds sound great over these chords.

3.Explain to the class that for the next 5 minutes or so, they will all become composers, and in their groups will set their words to music. You or the recording keep playing the chords round and round in a loop. After a minute or so, don't be surprised if you hear some ravishing music coming from the groups.

Film clip of the groups working on their songs

4.When you feel each group is happy with their composition, ask the groups to stand together, collectively making a semi-circle in front of the piano, or around you.

5.Finally, it's time to layer the 3 pieces of music. Work out a structure for the piece. In today's session, the first two groups sang through their tune once, one after the other, and then the third group entered and kept on repeating. We then layered the 3 tunes over each other, and there you have it – a 3- part chorus. Discuss with your class how to end the piece. For example, is there a big ending, with all groups singing at the tops of their voices, or does each group fade out one at a time? The possibilities are endless.

Film clip of the performance

As a footnote to this activity, you can also introduce your class to the tune Puccini wrote over the same chords you've just been using. Who knows, maybe someone in your class would also like to sing it as a solo to be incorporated into your 3 part chorus...

(Clip of Mimi singing)

'Are we alone now
There's something I must tell you...
How I wish I'd said these things before...
I've got so much that I would like to tell you...
Got so much, but I don't know were to start'