Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 8th day with the YOURS Project:
Today, the YOURS Project at Hibbard Elementary has finally started! At 9:00 a.m. the auditorium was crowded with lots of kids, very excited about the beginning of a new musical year together. To welcome these little players as warmly as possible, and to make the beginners comfortable with the new situation, Sylvia Carlson, the YOURS Project Nucleo Director at Hibbard, proposed splitting them up into instrument groups to play some ice-breaker games.
I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to spend time with and to teach an instrument group, the violas, in collaboration with Andrew Aldo Gonzalez, the High School intern I introduced you to last week. We engaged these kids in many different activities, both to create a welcoming atmosphere, and to start working on basic techniques and exercises. In recounting this experience, I'd like to share with you some personal points of view regarding music education.
As a pianist in an orchestral program, I can neither teach any instrument nor can I help students in solving the technical problems they have, according to the specific instrument they play. However, my musical background allows me to volunteer in a Project such as this, both as a fellow pianist and a music theory teacher. So, this morning I decided to work on musical fundamentals which, in my opinion must be covered before beginning to play an instrument: rhythm, breathing and singing.
Rhythm:Throughout my learning and teaching experience, I've often noticed that students have lots of difficulty feeling the rhythm with their bodies and keeping the beat. On one hand, this difficulty is surprising because dancing has always been the most spontaneous and natural musical expression, attested by archaeological finds of almost every ancient civilization. On the other hand, this rhythmical problem makes sense because students study just reading music first, without practicing the movements and motion inherent in the music. So today I started the lessons with two simple but really useful games - the WAH game, as proposed by the YOURS Project Director Albert Oppenheimer, and a game to help people remember each other's names. Both games were played while the kids kept the beat, dancing in binary and ternary rhythms (ex. a waltz).
Breathing:Another thing a musician must work on is breathing. Taking a moment each day to check-in with one's inner-self and breathe so that the body is free of tension really makes a difference long-term!There are lots of simple but very effective exercises to try, stimulating the imagination:-stand up tall, and lift your arms up above your head- imagine climbing a mountain, or grabbing our favorite sweet hanging from the ceiling-sit tall, as one is to play in orchestra, slowly rolling the shoulders up towards the ears and then circling them back and downwards. Imagine having pencils on the tips of the shoulders and drawing circles with them, bigger and bigger. -close the eyes and think of the chest widening and opening. Then release the body down and allow it to move freely, as if a puppet.It's important while doing these exercises to focus on the breathing, stimulating the concentration that a musician must have.Trust me: the kids had a lot of fun and understood the meaning of what they were doing.
Singing:Last but not least we worked on singing.When I asked the students if they liked singing, they answered 'NO!' So at first it was a challenging task to convince them to use their voices. After few games, at the end of the lesson, the room echoed not only my voice and the voice of Andrew, but theirs too!We had fun exploring the different kinds of sounds (low, central and high), imitating the cry of some animals (monkeys, dogs); all singing the musical scale together, while combining some movements.
For the kids to be more aware of themselves and develop as people, it's necessary to return to a more natural dimension, closer to our core essence. And also, as a really sweet kid told me today, to 'NEVER GIVE UP!'