Archive for May, 2013

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From Classroom to Stage

May 3, 2013

One of the challenges in general music is how to balance curriculum with performance prep. It really boils down to philosophy, and whether you are more process or product oriented. Personally, I am all about the process. I want my students to learn and understand. I want them to create and analyze and write. If the end result is not performance worthy, I am not terribly upset so long as they can articulate what they have learned or can clearly demonstrate the newly acquired concept. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to learn to sing with a beautiful, healthy tone and to perform to the best of their ability when on stage. I am simply focused more strongly on what we learn on the road to that performance. I want to develop musically literate students. Not every activity ends in a performance opportunity.

The reality, however, is that most schools require concerts or assemblies throughout the year. Very few of us will teach students whose parents are musicians or music educators. Most of the school community will look to the performances to judge the quality of the school’s music program. So how do you strike the process/product balance and walk away feeling good about both the learning and the show?

Honestly, if I had the definitive answer I could sell my ideas and never have to work again! While I don’t have the answer, I do have a few ideas that I have implemented over the years.

1) The Informance
For those of you who have not heard of this, an Informance is a performance where the students present songs and activities from class. Individuals act as narrators and inform the audience what the song/activity is, what concepts were learned, etc. The students take on the role of teacher, helping their families to understand what it is they have learned in Music class. For example, the 4th graders were learning about Dynamics. Together we created a sequence of Dynamics to represent the life of a storm (piano…crescendo to forte…decrescendo to mezzo piano…fortissimo…etc.) We used this sequence as we performed a sound scape with non-pitched percussion. The student “teachers” explained aha Dynamics are, and defined each term (“piano means soft, or quietly.”)

I have done these in the past with great success. The students gain a sense of ownership over the learning and their performance. The parents and administrators gain a deeper understanding of just what it is we do in the classroom. It was amazing how much smoother the parent conferences were after that Informance! I barely heard anyone say, “But Bobby loves to sing at home, isn’t that what they do in your class? Sing?”

2) If an Informance isn’t the right fit for your school, what about expanding selections from your classroom repertoire into performance pieces? For the concert I have coming up next week, I have done this with a few of my songs. The 2nd and 3rd grade students are singing a Folk Medley comprised of three do pentatonic folk songs that we have been working on in class: Rocky Mountain, Great Big House In New Orleans, and Dinah. We used the songs to learn “re” and sixteenth notes. The 3rd graders are finishing up an arranging project that focuses on form and instrumentation. I developed a form for the piece that includes unison and partner song singing, and added a body percussion pattern to ground the piece. The kids love it and it looks rather impressive. The best part? I didn’t have to teach them another new song that would be too difficult to incorporate into the curricular learning.

Another way I have expanded on known repertoire is by writing and adding new material to an old favorite. The Kindergarten and 1st grade students have been singing “Rain Rain Go Away.” Using the folk song as a refrain, I wrote two verses and a bridge to extend the rain theme. The kids love that they already knew part of the song and now feel quite grown up that they can sing such a long song.

 

Here is the recording I made of the song for my students so that they could practice at home. They think it is so cool that they can sing with Ms. Mueller at home!

 

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