This was another very unusual class. The story from the previous week was very strong in their minds, and they desperately wanted to continue it. That kind of intense student engagement is very hard for me to resist, so I relented, not having the least idea about where it would turn out. To further complicate matters, one student who was absent last week was present this week, so he had to be brought up to speed. Instead of my usual list of activities, here is a straight narrative of the day:
We began with a quick reaction game: if you hear music, move with the feet; no music move with the hands. I long even phrases at first (8 beats of music, 8 beats of silence) and gradually worked it down to shorter patterns. My goal was to introduce some basic rhythm patterns in 4 that contain 1 beat rest. They were moderately successful at this, so I went to the board and notated them to see if they could distinguish between them. They are not quite ready for this, but they can reproduce them if I point in time to the rhythms.
They suffered through all of this rather pedestrian teaching so they could get to what they really wanted to do: continue the story. We ended up spending most of our time trying to remember everything: which rhythms went with which characters; what the rhythms were, who was playing what.
Each group was supposed to play as the others moved, and here I probably pushed a little too hard to get them to act like a sensitive orchestra. Give anybody an instrument and the first thing they want to do is explore it: make sound, see what it does, try this, try that… The last thing a kid wants to do is hold it silently and wait for something to start. I can get kids there, but I need to allow them time to discover first, and I did do that.
All in all, our creative rhythms did not fall into place this time. But artistic creation is certainly like that. If nothing else they got to experience that knowing that we could try again another day.
This was an unusual class in many ways. The girls’ love for dramatic story telling prompted almost an entire class devoted to the development, rehearsal and enactment of one story. The class loosely followed some goals I had already set up, which was to work with 3 different rhythm patterns that are found in the slow movement of Mahler’s 1st Symphony. This movement is a basically a minor reworking of the tune Frere Jacques. But here is roughly the sequence of events:
- I asked the girls to create characters for each of the 3 rhythm patterns I had written on the board, and which I played on the drum. They came up with a king, a queen and a kangaroo.
- I let them choose whichever character they wanted to be. There were many kangaroos, a few queens and no kings – so I took on that role.
- We explored how each group would move according to their specific rhythm pattern.
- By asking them a series of questions, they created the following scenario: there is a king who likes turning people into statues, and one day he froze the entire kingdom. When the queen saw this she tried to save the statues, but was unsuccessful. A bunch of kangaroos came along and worked their magic spells to release the people. The queen was delighted.
- Each group had percussion instruments. The kangaroos were to play for each other, and all played for me. We practiced this.
- We enacted the story, attempting to talk as little as possible. This was easier the second time.
- I told them that after the statues were released, the king was sorry he had done that. The entire kingdom came together and moved each other’s rhythms in different patterns. At this point I played the Mahler and asked them to listen for each rhythm and move freely however they liked. Some chose to move as a character, others choose to pretend to play instruments. After one time through, we talked about what they heard. We played it one more time, and pointed out the various rhythms we heard as it went along.
By this point, the time was almost up. We gathered for a quick round or two of the St. Louis Blues, and had to say goodbye. This was a class I might be able to repeat with a different group, but only one as imaginative and interested in story as this one.
Back to my own observations… enjoy!
- Statue tag
- All students make a statue. One moves as long as she likes. When she stops, she makes the shape of one of the statues. That statue is free to move.
- This game is more fun when whoever is making someone else’s shape does not make their shape directly in front of the other person. This forces both the mover to be very clear, and the entire to class to watch the mover. Improvised music follows the mover.
- Move to the music; when you hear one measure of eighth notes, stop for one measure.
- This is a quick reaction calling for an inhibition. It’s challenging because the listener has to pay attention to the melody while moving (always a challenge for this age), and rest for exactly 4 beats. Most everyone needed verbal cues and pretty clear signals from the piano to achieve this. We will continue to work to strengthen the internal rhythmic feeling necessary to do this well.
- What can you do with one stick and a special friend (who also has one stick).
- A chance to exercise the imagination and work with a partner. Many creative responses.
- Partner A holds out stick for 8 beats; B plays 8 beats on A’s stick. A moves stick each phrase. Switch.
- After accompanying them on piano for a while, I began to play “Ah, Poor Bird” from last week. As they recognized it they began to tap it.
- Spin off
- The partners move to the music separately. When they hear the first 4 bars of the song, they must find their partner in time to tap the last 4 bars.
- As the game went along I disguised the music more and more, challenging them to listen closely for the quarter-quarter-half rhythm of the opening. Some were successful, others needed some verbal cues.
- Explore notation of song.
- Now that they were thoroughly familiar with the rhythm of the song, it was time to see it translated into notation. As they stretched out on the floor, I asked them to show quarter notes in their legs, half notes in their arms (in retrospect I wish I would have switched these two) and eighth notes in the air with arms. I played through the various durations for a while, and then slipped into the song one last time. Some were able to translate it into their body, but that was hard for others. I sat them up and we put the notation on the board for all to see.
- We ended by playing call and response phrases (with percussion) over the blues. I used St Louis Blues, a song I hope to come back to over the next few weeks.
Here are this week’s activities:
- Make a straight line with one hand and a circle with the other.
- Not easy for anyone to do, and most were not able to accomplish this. However, it allowed us to become acclimated to our temporary room which contained a large wall mirrored wall. I allowed them to look at themselves for a while, and then announced, “There actually is no mirror here,” hoping to discourage them from being distracted by it. It mostly worked!
- Association: quarter note=walk; eight notes=stop and clap
- I played very simply on a drum, and asked a student to play. This is the first time students have played for a movement exercise. I was surprised at how carefully they played and listened to each other, though it was challenging to sustain interest by the time we got to the last student. I participated with the movers.
- Same game, but I played on the piano, using the low register for the feet, and the upper register for the hands.
- I stuck to the rhythmic structure I had set up, but gradually moved it into a dissociation: the feet stepped quarter notes and the hands clapped eighth notes. Many were successful. For some this is challenging.
- Ah Poor Bird
- I transitioned into this simple but beautiful little round which some already knew. I put them into ‘nests’ and asked one to ‘fly’ into another’s nest and land right at the end of the song.
- Ice Skating
- By special request, we repeated this from last week. This time, I played for it and asked them to develop a trick or series of movements that they could demonstrate. Each took a turn. They moved with abandon!
- As they relaxed on the floor, I began to lead them in associations with 1, 3 and 5 of the scale (showing what they hear with arms, legs, fingers as they liked). I slowly introduced the Haydn to see who might recognize it. Some did. We then used tone bars to invent phrases using 1-5 of the scale. We then played and sang phrases using tone bars of 1-5 of the C major scale. Some sang with numbers, with varying degrees of accuracy. I chose not to correct, but to just let them experiment without feeling like they had to ‘get it right’. There will be plenty of time for that!
Here is our first class of the New Year:
- If I move, students are still. When I stop, students move freely.
- Simple instructions (affectionately known as ‘opposite day’), but devilishly hard to execute for this age. The urge to mirror is very strong in us. I made my phrases in tempo and predictable. Each student eventually led for a while. I hope for a variety of movements, but skipping is definitely the most popular. After a while, I added music to match the movement: single line for the soloist, and melody and harmony for the ensemble. This removes some of the difficulty of watching the soloist as they are now using musical cues, but it also begins to feel like a soloist and orchestra playing a concerto.
- Same game, piano leads.
- This returns the game to its original intention. I now encourage them to use the tempo and dynamics they heard in their own movements, which now happens in silence. This requires them to inhibit their natural impulse to move when they hear music. Inhibition is typical Dalcroze strategy.
- (seated) open hands for major, closed arms for minor.
- This quick reaction is a review, but my real purpose was to put a pattern of seven beats with a rest at end into their ears.
- Move pattern in the room, alone if minor and together if major.
- The rest on the end is quick, and requires a short stop (not easy for everybody). Interestingly they chose to move in two large groups for the minor.
- Toss a bean bag in the rest as you move.
- I added a story to this, and passed out bean bags: Fairies and elves walk in a dark forest, tossing a short light up (orange and red bean bags) into the air in the rest of the pattern. Every so often they take a bigger rest and toss the light higher. If they hear the evil giant they run to hide, but must learn to hide in their own space, away from their friends or the giant will find them. (This last part occurred quite spontaneously in an effort to get them to quickly find their own space in the room, a challenge for this age.)
- Move to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony
- The pattern came from the famous movement of this symphony. After they were familiar with it on the piano, they moved to a recording. It was fun to watch them encounter the big surprise chord!
- Play an imaginary instrument to a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Watch for your turn to be the soloist.
- They were surprisingly engaged in this. I played the role of conductor. I hope to use this next week in another activity, and wanted to prime the pump.
- Make rhythm patterns with rests.
- We used 4 note cards with quarter notes on them, one turned over for the rest. I asked one student to change the cards to make a new pattern, one to play the pattern, and the class to snap or tap in the rest. Each pattern feels a little different, and they seemed to notice this.
- Improvisation: play when your partner is silent, be silent when your partner plays.
- A mirror of the first activity, this time with percussion instruments. At first I was the partner, then we branched out. We demonstrated many ways of playing: with pattern/without pattern; long phrases/short phrases; repetitive non-repetitive.
- Hey Ho: Play in the rests of the song.
- This round is becoming familiar, and many were able to use their experience in the class to accomplish this.
Quite a full class this week – see you next time!
Here’s what we did:
- All move freely; I choose one person’s movement to play after which the class guesses who I was playing.
- This was by request. I like this game because it encourages the kids to move in their own way.
- Make a shape with 3 or 4 people.
- Simple instructions, but took them a while to achieve it. They all ended up making shapes on the floor, probably because they needed to cool down after all of the moving. It is difficult even for adults to make creative decisions in groups. It seems as though kids this age find it difficult to decide and stay with something, though there is no shortage of ideas. I noticed a tendency to want to make a shape that could be named (square, circle, triangle…). Some were not satisfied until their group’s shape resembled an identifiable shape.
- Move away from your shape, at the signal come back.
- No music accompanied at first. The signal was a single triangle chime. Soon I added music and encouraged them to express tempo and dynamics (many do this naturally). Then I made the signal the final 2 bars of Deck the Halls, the goal being to make it back to their shape by the last note. At first I had to keep the tempo slow and give verbal cues, but after a while they were able to anticipate.
- Plastique: make a circus ‘trick’ with a group of 3 or 4.
- Playing with the elephant story from last week. I allowed them to use a ball. One group created a 3 part piece that included different levels and tempo changes. It was very symmetrical.
- Minor=move alone; major=find partner.
- We stepped patterns with quarters, eighths and half notes. As longer durations are always more challenging to move, I encouraged them to stretch their ‘trunks’ on the half notes.
- Boom Da Li Da
- I used this as a quick movement transition before a rest. Fun song in 3 that has a 3x’s as fast section.
- Anacrusic Scale
- While they were resting on the floor, I played a growing scale (Do, Do Re, Do Re Mi, etc.) They sang back call and response style.
- Modes exploration: At the xylophone, choose a starting note to call ‘home’. Play anything you like, visiting home when you want the melody to rest.
- As they played I accompanied them at the piano to give them a flavor of each of the modes that they chose. This was meant as an introduction to these rich sound-worlds.
That was their last class (with me) before break. Happy New Year to all!