Music Class

Every music class from 3 - 6 that I teach does the same routine straight away when they come in the room. It takes up the first 5 minutes of class, more or less. They put their attendance stickers on the name chart, get a pencil, a clipboard (they don't really have desks) and they writing/drawing paper. The paper has half blank space and have lined space. At the top is a place to write composer, title and performer. It's called "Art of Listening" and I do it so that the students will gain exposure to a large volume of music, composers and styles that they would never choose to listen to on their own (yet) nor would know how to find. Most of the students are surprised to find out what music they actually like. Some are favorites - Beethoven's 5th, Beethoven's 9th (Ode to Joy), William Tell Overature, Bach Toccata and Fugue in Dm (the "Halloween Organ Song") - most of the jazz of Ella and Duke are over their heads, but they're getting familiar. We do a brief talk on the composer/performer, style and piece and then we're on to the days work.

They're job is to either write a story or draw a picture that's appropriate to the style of the music (you don't want to hear a lovely pastoral suite with a picture of vampires running around... I have to give this direction or this is what you'd get every time from the 4th and 5th grade boys) Also, they can't cop out and just draw the instrument they're hearing. They need to try to see a story in the mood of the music.

Some students have written some amazing short pieces during this time. Some have drawn some very insightful pictures. Some just draw princesses. The exposure's important.

Yesterday we listened to Chopin's Etude 12, also titled "Revolutionary". A wonderful solo piano piece in a heavy minor with gorgeous cascades of scales rushing up and down through the octave's behind dramatic chord stuctures wide with range and tone. If you know music, it's a relatively familiar work. Very dramatic... Chopin was good at this. An Eturde is simply an exercise, like a skill drill, in some particular area of technique, so when you listen to Chopin's you think "if these were just his 'exercises'... I have played Chopin many times and it is always challenging, but sublime.

Yesterday's song, though, was interesting in what it evoked in the students. Across the board with my 5th graders, probably 90 - 95% of the students wrote or drew a situation where someone was stuck... walking up stairs that never ended, getting swallowed in a whirlpool that never stopped spinning them, falling down an endless hill, running from something without escape. I was fascinated by this. They music really does, because of the endless roll of scales, have a sense of continuum for sure, but I was so impressed that the student's "felt" it... really felt it deeply enough that what they thought to say through their work echoed this perfectly. It was really perceptive and contigous class-wide. And it was something I never heard in the piece and I was wondering what maybe Chopin was trying to say himself. Like I said, the piece was written as an exercise, but he never passed up an opportunity to say something emotionally.

Later on that day I was speaking with another student, Older, about 17, who I had just had do some research on a couple composers earier this week of pieces he's playing. He was surprised by some of the things he discovered and we discussed how every composer, whether writing personally or for a commission, always brings themselve into the piece. Every thing they experience informs their work and they speak to us through their music. It's like reading their autobiography.

What resulted in the class was a wonderful moment where these young people realized that these songs aren't just random pieces of musical history - without point, without connection. But that they speak to us and create moods and worlds. That these composers are still reaching through time to tell us stories from their present and their past and even what they saw in the future; that it's a conversation with voices that still speak with us today. In fact that they aren't voices of ghosts but those still living among us, relating to us, pulling us and pushing us, sharing space with us... daring us to tell stories of our own.

1 comment:

Krista Marie said...

I read this to Andrew...he really appreciated it. I, appreciated it mostly, but not being a music girl, could not get the full effect....but I did, mostly. :)
Love you, Jenny!