Focus on Folk Music: Music of the Romani

Have you seen the movie The Red Violin, featuring actor Samuel L. Jackson and music performed by violinist Joshua Bell? The Red Violin takes place over the course of 300 years, from 17th Century Italy to 20th Century China. The film features five separate stories, each presented in the country’s native language, taking the viewer through a journey exploring all of the red violin’s history.

Just as The Red Violin takes the viewer on a musical and cultural journey, you too can take your students on a journey exploring different musical traditions in your classroom. “All traditions of music are important. It goes towards an understanding of the diversity of our world. An understanding of music promotes an understanding of the culture from which it came,” says NAfME member Constance E. Barrett.

The Romani, a nomadic people also known as Gypsies, have a long tradition of string playing. Many composers such as Brahms, Liszt, Bizet, and Bartok were influenced by gypsy music. Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908) studied the music of the Romani, which heavily influenced his popular virtuoso violin composition Ziegeunerweisen (“Gypsy Airs”). The flamenco music of Spain is believed by some scholars to be the product of Hungarian Gypsies after adapting a series of local genres.

Music that was once only heard live and passed down aurally is now easy to bring into the classroom through recordings. Folk music is easy to listen to, sing, and perform and is in line with national standard #9. Check out From the Top’s “Rhythm and Strings” Live from Carnegie Hall episode. Accompanying lesson materials include a listening activity that focuses on how traditional, folk, and classical music influence one another, as exemplified by Sarasate’s “Gypsy Airs” (Ziegeunerweisen).

Click here for a high school general music lesson plan based on the film and music of The Red Violin.

Dr. Constance E. Barrett ( is a string specialist for the Greenwich, Connecticut, Public Schools. She is a 2007 recipient of the Yale University School of Music Distinguished Music Educator Award. A cellist, she frequently performs in the greater New York metropolitan area.

Nicole Springer © National Association for Music Education