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The Music of Friendship

To celebrate friendship with reference to the music of Elgar

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To celebrate friendship with reference to the music of Edward Elgar.

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly builds on the 'Music, Music Everywhere' assembly, also about Elgar.
  • You will need a recording of Elgar's Enigma Variations.
  • An OHP with the heading 'Enigma Variations by Elgar', showing the titles of three of the pieces: 'No. 1. C.A.E.'; 'No. 4. W.M.B.'; 'No. 8. W.N.'.
  • Draw some large open musical notes onto another OHP acetate for use in 5. below.


  1. Play the opening of the Enigma Variations (up to the end of Variation No. 1) as the children come into assembly. Introduce the piece, explaining that it was composed by Edward Elgar and is a set of variations on a theme, or tune. (Refer back to the 'Music, Music, Everywhere' assembly and remind the children that a portrait of Elgar is found on the reverse of a £20 note.)

    Ask the children to think about the meaning of the title. The word 'enigma' itself means a puzzle or riddle. The puzzle is that Edward Elgar had a well-known tune in mind when he composed the theme for his variations, but he kept it a secret. So the enigma remains and the puzzle will never be fully solved.

  2. Reveal the initials that Elgar used for the titles of his variations. Challenge the children to solve another puzzle by thinking what they mean. They are the initials of his family and friends, beginning in the first variation with his wife (C.A.E.: Caroline Alice Elgar). Elgar imagined how each of his different friends might play his tune. The variations are musical pictures, or portraits, of the people Elgar knew and loved.

  3. Invite the children to listen to two of the musical pictures in turn, Variations 4 and 8, or short extracts if you prefer. What kind of characters does the music bring to mind? Happy or sad; quiet or noisy; gentle or fierce?

    After the children have responded to the variations you've played, share the information that Variation 8 (W.N.) is for a friend called Winifred Norbury. Winifred was a gentle and happy person. The music captures her happiness and laughter.

    Variation 4 (W.M.B.) is a great contrast. It pictures William Meath Baker, a friend who had a rather gruff manner, and sometimes banged the door when he left a room!

    Did the music convey their characters?

  4. Ask the children to think of one of their friends or a member of their family. What kind of music would best describe them? Who would feature in a 'Top Ten' in their musical portrait gallery? Reflect how friendship can draw together people of very contrasting (different, sometimes opposite) personality.

  5. Pose one final 'enigma'. We may not know the tune that underlies Elgar's variations, but we do recognize that all friendships are built around…what? Invite suggestions, and write them into the empty musical notes on the OHP; examples might be caring, listening, sharing, helping, understanding. Conclude that these 'notes' of (e.g.) caring, listening, sharing, helping, and understanding, can all form harmony between friends.

Time for reflection

Creator God,
Thank you for special friendships.
Help us to live in harmony with one another
and to enjoy our different personalities.


'For the beauty of the earth', verses 1 and 3 (Come and Praise, 11)

Publication date: February 2004   (Vol.6 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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