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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in music education

Posted by on in Early Childhood

Many years ago, teaching pre-k students about stories, and story structure, it occurred to me that since my students sang their made-up songs in dramatic play, I should share the grown-up version of stories that are sung. That is how teaching opera to young children was born in our classroom. The opera by Englebert Humerdinck, Hansel and Gretel, was one I’d sung in the past. It is usually performed during the holidays, ostensibly for children (though I defy any adult to fall asleep while watching it). The story itself is problematic for early childhood classrooms. A mother/step-mother who wants her children to die so that the couple has enough to eat? A witch who turns children into cookies? The original tale is a typical Brothers Grimm tale, based on many word-of-mouth versions going back to a famine in fourteenth century Germany. To our modern sensibilities, it is a terrifying story. The wonderful James Marshall’s comic version is one children enjoy, but at the end, the step-mother is still dead. Reading this version to children one year, a boy pronounced this turn of events, “Good!” (Good riddance to a bad mommy?). Older school-age children will enjoy comparing all of the versions, but for preschool, Beni Montresor’s version is best. And it is identical to the opera libretto.

Here is a very brief synopsis: A poor mother sends her children out to pick wild strawberries because of their need for food. The children get lost and sleep in the forest, protected by the friendly animals (children in costume), and angels. Here is the scene in the opera which will illicit conversation about feelings of sadness, loss, and how we sometimes need a good sleep to overcome these feelings. Hansel and Gretel find the witch’s delicious house, and meet the old, seemingly friendly woman who owns it. The story proceeds from there as it usually does.

The witch’s character is usually played for comedy, sometimes in even in drag, softening the horror of a witch who eats gingerbread children. After Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven, the other children that were liberated from witch enchanted cookie forms (played by the Met Children’s Chorus in my recommended DVD), and Hansel and Gretel, celebrate, singing and dancing with gusto. The mother and father sing themselves in from the wings, and they joyously reunite with Hansel and Gretel. There couldn’t be a more satisfying ending, provided you don’t mind the children’s chorus ripping the witch/cookie apart and pretending to eat her. Our children loved this part! The storybook and opera prepare children for the themes of overcoming hardship with ingenuity, and the ultimate triumph of love over adversity.

I have always shown the DVD (VHS years ago) in twenty minute installments, making sure to pause and discuss what is happening, and listening to comments and questions. Children have amazing observations to express and discuss.

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Posted by on in General

children singing

My elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Erdle, encouraged us all to join the school choir. I loved music (and still do), so I jumped at the chance to have an extra hour of singing at the end of the day every Friday. I was the only boy in the entire sixth grade who signed up.

Mrs. Erdle rarely used the textbook containing old standard compositions like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Frere Jacques.” Instead, she introduced us to some of the “hip” new music of the early seventies from new acts such as The Carpenters, Elton John, James Taylor and The Partridge Family. She typed up the lyrics of songs including “Close to You,” “Your Song,” “Fire and Rain,” and “I Think I Love You” and then rolled out purple-printed ditto copies for each of us. Nearly fifty years later, I still have those treasured sheets.

She was “cool.” She made music “cool.” She made us “cool.”

That spring we learned every single song on the debut album of a relatively new teeny bopper group, The Partridge Family. I took part of my birthday money – a whopping $3.99 - and begged my father to take me to the local shoe store (of all places) to buy the album. The cover is now worn, the vinyl is scratched, but it still has a hallowed spot near my old record player.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

Artsamatter

This blog post has been surprisingly difficult for me to write. I have wanted to write it for a long while, but every time I started, my thoughts wandered all over the page. I found myself becoming defensive, grasping at straws for evidence to support my position that the arts are essential to every child’s education because ___________.

You fill in the blank. How would you fill in the blank?

artssIf you and I were ever to meet at a conference or other venue in the future, and if you were to ask me about this post, you should be prepared for an ear full. I cannot promise any of what I might say to you is rational. I am passionate about arts education. Some of my colleagues have noted that I sometimes get angry or overly boisterous when I talk about this subject. Do I have a chip on my shoulder about how we often justify arts education in schools? Maybe. I am a musician and former music teacher, and I am married to an opera singer, so the topic hits very close to home. I’m not sure that I would call it a chip, but something IS there. It feels more like disappointment. Or, maybe it is a regret that as a musician and as a leader in education I have not been more vocal about what I think. Maybe I am disappointed that I have not meant what I said and I have not said what I meant.

The feeling is not unlike a disappointment I experienced as a teenager over a Psalm we sang weekly in my church to conclude worship. My parents were (and still are) members of a small conservative protestant church that practices Exclusive Psalmody during worship – the singing of Psalms from the Bible in four-part vocal harmony without musical accompaniment. In many ways, this practice strengthened my love for music and made me a better musician, training my ear to listen to worshipers around me and to join them in harmony and praise. The sound of the congregation singing acapella boldly in four-part harmony was simply awesome. From a young age, I developed a keen appreciation for God’s craftsmanship in building human vocal mechanisms that could in one unified breath praise God with such a beautiful and convicted sound. (An example of Psalm singing can be found HERE.arts)

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

music

What do you do to bring music outside in your preschool or child care program? I mean, if you don't have donors flooding you with money?

The photo above is of a hammock-style xylophone made by a father at my last center. He made it out of old bed slats. It is a great example of "upcycling", a new word for an old concept. You rescue forlorn old items, making them into something new and exciting. This cool musical instrument can also be made with new wood by following this "recipe" (my word for anything you make from scratch, instruments included). I have seen young children stand and play one of these beauties for twenty minutes or more. The sound is like this amazing forest xylophone, only not quite as well-tuned. 

drummers 10

Another way to upcycle unused or discarded "junk" is to turn dry wall buckets into drums. These can be kept outdoors and set up for drumming any time. No beaters? Children pick up sticks all the time. We tell them not to run with them, but now we can tell them what they can do with them instead! I have seen Pre-K boys interrupt a chase game of Ninja Turtles to drum out their abundant energies. What better way to channel that vibrant, wild spirit? 

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