Why is being in a musical ensemble so important for a child?
Two weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of attending Hawthorne Village Public School’s Arts Day. When I booked this gig, I could not have imagined the magnitude of what this day entailed. From the moment I arrived I was greeted in the parking lot by a staff member and shown where to go (something that rarely happens) I was given a welcome packet including school map, programming schedule (they brought in around 20 presenters all for the arts) and a gift of homemade cookies! Every staff member I met was extremely kind and excited to have me there. They worked as a team and had to communicate well to pull of this massive day for their kids.
The students were polite and engaged and all 3 of my workshops went without a hitch. However the real highlight of the day was a provided luncheon for the presenters in the gym that featured a full hours worth of live entertainment PROVIDED BY THE STUDENTS!!! It was amazing! Junior choirs, drama club, spoken word, poetry, live band and dance teams. There must have been close to 200 kids participating. It was beyond incredible and I could not stop smiling. The kids were having a blast and the teachers were so proud. Upon leaving the school i reflected on why the atmosphere was so different and the answer was obvious. The schools principal, Carolyn Lewis, was a former music teacher.
It all made sense. Hawthorne Village was a prime example of what happens when arts are put at the forefront of a students education. The community and team mentality of the school was impossible to miss. It seemed that everyone in the school was involved in some arts extracurricular, and it showed. The halls were filled with life and vibrancy. Students and staff who worked as a team and had created a community they were proud of. You could tell they all love coming to school everyday, well more days than most.
Carolyn Lewis and her team at Hawthorne Village do not take their responsibility lightly. There jobs are to create amazing human beings and they are doing that through the arts. I am still today inspired and beyond impressed. I hope to return someday soon!
Most parents expect obvious results from their child's music lessons. They want to see some 'tangible' progress, such as learning repertoire, reading ability and theory. While I do think that these aspects of education are important, I find that when made the entire focus of the lesson, they hinder progress. This is why when I create a curriculum for a student I look at what the product should be and I make it very clear to the parent that we are creating a love for music as well as a well rounded musician, not just a technically proficient percussionist/pianist.
The word product can mean many things, however in this case I define it by asking the student a few simple questions; What do you want to learn? What interests you? What do you want to be as a musician? There answers help me to form a curriculum that combines musical theory as well as aspects that will be fun for them and hold their attention.
This usually leads me to focussing on compositional techniques (which help with reading music), Jamming and non verbal communication (which helps with performance and musical understanding) as well as letting the student choose their repertoire (we often write our own or pick popular songs or I write repertoire to fit their needs). Through all of this the product is not only a more well rounded musician, but also a student who enjoys what they are learning.
Music is undoubtably a type of language. I am sure anyone who has made music with another person would agree. This is especially evident when improvising or jamming, where a piece of music can fall apart if there is not some form of communication between performers. Something amazing happens when a simple nod, look or chord progression can completely change the mood of a piece.
I always tell my students that the most important component to group jams is listening. Listening to each other as individuals and to the group as a whole. It is in listening that a performer can find their role in a piece. Should I play out? Should I sit back? Should I change my surface tempo or chord progression? It is also very important to know when it is time to lead or when it is time to follow. Knowing when to do these things and how to do these things is so important in being a well rounded musician. This is why I feel it is important for the students of CRASH to be exposed to improvisation in group settings as frequently as possible. The skills that are required to communicate with each other in improvising is crucial in interpreting music in any setting. Stay tuned for some of the methods I use with the students of CRASH in order to help them learn how to communicate through music. Stayed tuned to learn more about these methods.