We began with theater games that demand focus, incorporate rhythm and visual non-verbal communication, as well as introducing the students to musical basics such as pitch notation, letters of the scale, and basic rhythmic notation. The students loved listening to an item from Art’s collection, “Red Beans and Rice” (Spearhead/Michael Franti), which not only celebrates both Latin American and African American cultures through a central cuisine, but which is also an extended narrative rap portrait of the artist Michael Franti, who uses delicious food imagery to discuss his culture and himself. In preparation for writing their career perspectives songs, students had to begin notating spoken phrases from the rap after speaking it in rhythm while clapping a 4/4 rhythm. Students also listened to classical music themes and took a pre-survey in which they attempted to match a theme they heard to its notation; and reflected upon how those themes made them feel, why; and what kind of song they might write about themselves. How would it sound? What would it look like? Kids provided amazing examples, some already understanding the link between slow tempos and notes and time-intensive occupations, such as architect, mood (veterinarian), and difficulty (chef).
As part of our project, student wrote essays describing their future jobs. Some students chose to amplify their essays with illustrations! Then, we started improvising melodies that would somehow reflect these jobs. The big idea was: how do we use music to represent people? What would MY theme sound like? How would I write it down, once I composed it? To help with this process, students also listened to a classical piece that represents a larger than life character(Hall of the Mountain King) and drafted three non-traditional scores of it. Guelly, a student who at the beginning of the year wrote an essay saying that she would “stop acting like a fool in class” in order to reach her career goal of becoming a singer, created the score below. I’d say she kept her promise, and more. We also asked students, twice, to explain to us what a “Score” is. Their answers changed from “I don’t know” to very good explanations following the assignment.
Student #3Angel wrote a very long essay regarding his future job choices. I quickly realized that, thanks in part to the structure provided by his 5th grade teacher, that Angel's disruptiveness masked a very bright and creative mind. His work drastically improved over the course of the year to the point that he was a model student, as opposed to the class troublemaker. I think the challenging nature of our work also held his attention.
At this point, the students were divided into composing teams, with one student given the duties of the conductor/composer. These students chose teammates to bring their career essays to life in music: architect, chef, baker, singer, and basketball player. They were invited to choose instruments from the instrument room with their composing team, provided they could explain why the instruments they chose were appropriate to their essay theme. They then practiced their compositions with their teammates, and notated them in a non-traditional format.