Last year I discovered a wonderfully fun website that allows you to drag and drop to create funky a capella arrangements. You can play around, record, and save your creations, and it's quite possibly the most user-friendly composition platform I've found online. All the students loved it, and it'll be a great way to spend our last week before spring break (when everyone is getting just a little stir crazy). It will also help prepare the students for their end of the year composition projects which will begin after testing.
Last week, some of the students had the opportunity to experience meditative listening, whereby we sat in a meditative position (cross-legged or on knees, sitting up tall with palms touching or facing up on our legs, and eyes open or closed to suit the student's needs) and listened to an excerpt from Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. For the first time this year, entire classes of more than 20 students were able to focus on the music in silence and stillness, interpreting it as they chose and in whatever way was meaningful for them. The responses were varied, but always poignant. Here are some examples of student's comments after listening:
"It made me think of a shipwreck in a movie." ~1st grader
"It made me think of my grandparents." ~1st grader
"It made me feel relaxed because it was so quiet and nobody was talking." ~1st grader
"It made me feel like I was watching flowers grow." ~Kindergartner
Some students were even brought to tears by the sadness they heard in the music, and although sadness can be a challenging emotion to deal with, it is an important part of the human experience. That even young children with limited world experiences can respond to wordless music in such a profound way is testament to music's affective qualities and depth. However, some students didn't care for the music, but with their meditative posture and the atmosphere in the room, they were able to silently respect the music and their classmates' listening experiences.
This week, 1st and 2nd graders will meditatively listen to another piece of music (either Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis or a shorter piece such as Frank Ticheli's Loch Lamond or a movement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition) then have the opportunity to respond to it through creative writing or drawing.
Pre-K and Kindergartners will use their listening skills for Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals and John Lithgow's accompanying story which explores how ensembles can be used to invoke the imagery and personalities of various animals.
Movement is an intrinsic part of how we experience music, especially for children. Freeze dance is one of our students' favorite activities, so this week the Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders will be playing some Epic Freeze Dance, comprised of different types of music of varying speeds, dynamic levels, and moods. As they listen to the music, students can show how they internalize the music by dancing in that style. This activity will lead us into quiet listening activities, where we take the external energy and direct it inwards while listening to soft, relaxing, but complex music.
Third graders, however, are continuing to work on their project which will be presented at the spring concert. Stay tuned!
After our introductions to the Spring Concert repertoire last week, students will continue getting familiar with their music: its content, its message, and how to sing it. However, singing for a full class period without doing a lot of movement is tedious and boring, so we'll be mixing it up a little with some fun game songs. In Kindergarten we'll review a song most of them know - "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" - then try out a funkier variation on that theme: "Head and Shoulders, Baby!" This should get them movin', groovin', and challenging themselves to see how quickly they can move with the song.
In 1st and 2nd grade we'll be bringing back and old favorite: Acka Backa. It's a stone passing game sung with nonsense syllables, but it gets tricky when the beat gets going! We'll find out who can keep the beat, and challenge ourselves to play the game without needing Mrs. Pearl's help.
In 3rd grade, we'll be taking a slightly more serious approach to the lesson as we begin to brainstorm for the special 3rd grade portion of the spring concert. We'll be singing, discussing, sharing ideas, and hopefully coming up with some brilliant plans!
It may seem early, but before we know it we will be on stage singing for the Spring Concert (May 20th and 21st, in case you're curious), so the work is already beginning, and we're doing so with a single question:
How can music promote a message of peace and freedom?
This week, all students will have the opportunity to explore this question and learn music with these themes. While all the songs we will be studying this week was made popular by American artists, they reflect a varied tapestry of American experiences. From the music of black spirituals sung in the times of slavery to contemporary anthems decrying global concerns, students will be introduced to a plethora of music sending powerful messages.
Last week, 2nd and 3rd graders began this exploration by identifying ways in which the world can improve. They talked about grand humanitarian issues such as hunger and homelessness, global concerns such as damages to the environment, and more personal matters like poor relationships between family and friends. All of these, we agreed, are important obstacles to overcome as we work to make the world a better place. Now it is our turn to lend our voices to humanity's chorus in a single refrain: We shall overcome someday!