It’s only once every four years we need to remember to add 29 to the end of February. But leap year is so much more than a day – it’s also a year where a number of things are a little bit different and maybe a little more fun. The year gives sports fans a chance to celebrate the highest level of athletic achievement during the Summer Olympics, allows scientists and mathematicians to marvel at the Earth’s orbit around the sun, and gives teachers the chance to explore how music plays a role in seemingly every part of the human experience.
Here are some ways music teachers can have fun with leap year:
1. Learn about the Science and Math Surrounding the Year
First we begin with the basics, such as why it may be called “leap year.” It’s thought that is related to the days that will be “leaped” over after February. In non-leap years, calendar dates move ahead by one day each year. During leap years, days move ahead by two after February 29th. So if you celebrate Christmas, in 2019 it was on a Wednesday. In 2020, Thursday will be leaped over, and Christmas will fall on a Friday.
But why do we do this? You may recall that it has to do with how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun – nearly six hours longer than 365 days. Centuries ago, leaders noticed the time problem – the Roman calendar was getting out of sync with the seasons over time. Julius Caesar and the scientists he consulted aimed to resolve that by adding the extra day to February. This almost solved the problem, but there still were about 11 extra minutes each year, so a new rule was later added that century years would only be leap years if they were divisible by 400: 1900 – no, 2000 – yes.
2. Study Those Fours and Fourths
Just like the calendar, so much in music seems to revolve around the number four. Younger students can freshen up their knowledge about quarter notes and 4/4 time signatures. Older students can explore perfect, diminished, and augmented fourths. Everyone can debate about why 4/4 timing is so popular, particularly in Western music.
Some claim 4/4 timing is innate because of the rhythmic way people walk or run. Others say it’s a cultural phenomenon. Experiment with your students – play a few pieces in 4/4 time, and then a few with different time signatures. Let them compare. This may include pieces like Take Five with its 5/4 time, or a number of Beatles songs that feature changing time signatures, such as All You Need Is Love.
3. Pay Tribute to Opera and Musical Theater
The Gilbert and Sullivan comedic opera The Pirates of Penzance may be the most famous story with a leap year theme. In the show, the character Frederic is expected to be a pirate apprentice until his 21st birthday. But that turns out to be a much longer period of servitude when Frederic learns that his birthday is on February 29th. The popular opera later was turned into a musical theater show, along with a movie. Explore the music here.
4. Get Ready for the Summer Olympics
The Summer Olympics almost always occur during a leap year. As mentioned above, the exceptions would be any century years that are not divisible by 400, like the year 1900. This is a great opportunity to explore some of the music that has been featured during the games, along with pieces that celebrate the spirit the games represent. View some selections here.
5. Celebrate February 29th Anniversaries
Anniversaries are certainly less common when you hold an event on February 29th, but a number of award-winning artists have been in that position. Several high-profile award shows have been held on leap day – providing opportunities to celebrate those achievements during leap year in music class.
The 1940 Academy Awards were held on leap day, and the big winner that night was Gone with the Wind. It won for Outstanding Production, and Hattie McDaniel also became the first African American to receive an Academy Award – winning the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in the film. Another legendary movie, The Wizard of Oz, also won awards that night for Best Score, which includes many pieces students can learn, and Best Song for Over the Rainbow.
The 1968 Grammy Awards were also held on leap day. That year, the Beatles won Album of the Year for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Years later a leap day Academy Awards show was held again in 2004. The Best Picture winner in that show was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which also won for Best Original Music Score and Best Original Song for Into the West.
6. Explore Other Calendars
If you are going to have fun with calendars, The Lord of the Rings provides plenty of opportunities. Author J.R.R. Tolkien explains in the books that the hobbits followed a calendar in which every month has 30 days – so February 29th and February 30th were the norm for the Baggins family and other hobbits.
In real life, the Swedes and Finns also celebrated a February 30th day back in 1712 when it was added to allow their countries to catch up with the Gregorian calendar.
There are also many other calendar systems you can explore, including the traditional Chinese, Hebrew, and Hindu calendars. There are a number of compositions that celebrate China’s Lunar New Year, even though, sadly, many festive events were cancelled in 2020.
There are also many compositions centered around teaching children the Gregorian calendar, such as the pieces in Let’s Sing Vol. 3.
7. Sing Happy Birthday to Superman!
Superman’s fictional birthday is widely recognized as being on February 29. Internet lore suggests DC Comics promoted that idea to help explain why Superman does not seem to age. Regardless, you can celebrate Superman’s birthday with music selections about the super hero.
8. Remember Famous Birthdays
There are of course many real-life people who have leap day birthdays. The chance of being born on leap day is 1 in 1461, or .068 percent. Famous people with that luck include self-help author Tony Robbins and actor Antonio Sabàto Jr.
In the music world, artists with leap day birthdays have included jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey and composer Gioacchino Rossini. You can celebrate their achievements by learning or listening to their music, including Rossini’s William Tell Overture.
9. Have Fun with Animals That Leap
Leap year is a perfect time to pull out Freddie the Frog or generally focus on animals that leap, jump and hop. Options include the musical A Year with Frog and Toad, takes on classic tales like The Tortoise and the Hare, and even moving pieces such as Perfect Day from The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.
There also are plenty of movement and dance pieces for children to use their energy to jump. Or students can practice making hopping sounds using percussion. There are pieces like Frogs and Toads that use wood blocks for just that purpose.
10. Reminisce on the Power of a Day
An extra day no doubt provides new moments to see what life brings. There are reams of songs that celebrate time and the potential ups and downs of a day. They include compositions from musical theater, such as Everybody Rejoice (“Can’t you feel a brand new day?” – from The Wiz), One Short Day (from Wicked), Day by Day (from Godspell), and One Day More (from Les Misérables). There are many spiritual songs, such as John Rutter’s This Is the Day, and even heartbreaking songs about wishing for another day, like Diamond Rio’s touching One More Day.
Then there are also songs that are technically not correct during leap year. Sorry, Rent. Seasons of Love may be a beautiful song, but mathematicians know five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes is a little bit off in leap time.
Share whatever ideas you have for celebrating leap year in the comments.
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