Ms. Riley told us that she would be working on narrative and perspective with the kids, and had already given them a “what did you do this summer?” writing exercise. Using that as a starting point, we began our project by playing a theatre game that introduces the concept of sound and gesture as characterization. Each student had to share something about themselves with the class, such as, “This summer, I played football,” and use a gesture, facial expression, tone of voice, and an illustrative sound to turn their sentence into a multi-faceted acting exercise! The kids loved it and it was a good way to get them performing. We then brainstormed themes familiar to them, such as “Jaws”, and discussed sounds that we associate with people, such as the song that the ice cream man plays on his truck loud speakers (it was August!) The kids used their portfolios to draw pictures of the ice cream man and to discuss how hearing that theme made them feel. Further work will incorporate listening to famous classical themes, writing self-portraits verbally; improvising a theme on handbells based on those essays; notating them; and performing them at the end of the year. Listen: how does this song make you feel?

This student notated the pitches of her composition on the staff, by color, and by note name. !!!!

Student #1

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This student is struggling with some emotional and behavioral issues, but did an apparently amazing job in early work focused on writing personal narratives. Listen here to what he and his learning aide think about an essay he wrote about a family fishing trip.

We all went fishing and my brother caught 5 fish and I caught 15 fish…and my dad caught 14 fish. The catfish were big and strong. They were good fish. I threw the fish back to the water.”


Student #2

Clarissa is extremely bright and ahead of the rest of the class. It is a challenge to keep her engaged while attending to those that are not at her level. I hope our creative work will give her room to work deeply for as long as she is willing to focus. All the students completed an essay about a significant personal experience upon which to base future compositions about their personalities. Hers is above.

Student #3

This student apparently has a sad home life. He is very bright and articulate for his age and surprised me with his sensitivity and artistic ability. He joined our class later in the year, but immediately took to the curriculum. When asked what experience defined him, he mentioned his mom’s remarriage, and would later base his composition upon the sound of her wedding bells, which made him “cry tears of joy”


MCLT Art Weible talks to the students about handbell technique

Once the students had completed their personal essays, I extracted a sentence or two from each one for them to turn into a musical theme. Art thought that handbells would be a good instrument for the kids to try; they are fascinated by the sound and get immediate gratification. They are also limited to one octave, so that composed themes could be easily notated. The students were fascinated by this activity. One by one, each student got up, improvised a theme, and explained how they composed their music. Methods ranged from random selection to purposeful low to high choices. As the students discussed this with the class, I told them what I thought their selection might say about their personality. They were absolutely attentive, which has been a struggle for this class, and seemed to love the attention they received as part of this activity. Next, we will notate their music on a collage that includes their essay and a portrait I took of each student in class to complete their musical “self portraits”.

Student composed a theme that reminded him of his mother's recent remarriage. Reflecting in his journal, he said that this activity made him cry "tears of joy". Student has various learning issues.

Student #1

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Here a special leaning aide for Jose (featured above) discusses why the essay Jose wrote in preparation for composing a personal theme was exceptional for him.

Student #2

[jwplayer mediaid=”3424″] Here is a video of this student composing her theme on handbells using the “at random” method because she felt adventurous that day!

Student #3

[jwplayer mediaid=”3422″]This student said that her mother calls her the “first mom” because she is so good at taking care of her baby sister! In our first attempt at composing, which was improvising in front of the class on handbells, she said that her song would be quiet and calm so that “it wouldn’t wake the baby”. Here also is a video from the beginning of the year in which she discusses whether or not she thinks she can compose a song.


To complete our project, students lined up and played their collage themes one by one on the handbells in one long continuous “song”.  These 4th graders were not ready to maintain a consistent sense of tempo on the bells, which are difficult to play in a melodic manner, but they were absolutely silent and listened happily and politely to each other’s themes. This attentiveness was in and of itself a major learning accomplishment with this particular class. I think they also relished the personal attention they received while playing their personal themes. They had to notate their themes on the collages in standard notation, which they did unexpectedly well.

Student #1

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Clarissa felt her personal theme should be about ice cream.



Student #2

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Composing our themes. Listen to a portion of the final class song (composed of all the individual themes played one by one) above.


Student #3

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In the video above, Joshua plays his composition and explains his collage. As a “crazy enough to eat blue meat” kid who asked “why do we have to write about this stuff” the day the above picture was taken, I think he ended up enjoying the experience in spite of his independent streak.




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