Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Concert Filled with Dance and Rock 'n' Roll

Dance is an integral part of Glacier Valley's arts program (photo by Bethany Vaughn)
Even though this is the first year of our JAMM violin program, Glacier Valley has been incorporating music, dance, visual arts and drama into its curriculum for years.  Movement is key to learning and is often cited in current research as one of the best ways to get the brain's attention and keep it.  The Venezuelan orchestras are famous for the way in which their musicians move to express music and they certainly keep their audiences in rapt attention.

I shared a short video clip in an earlier posting about how Glacier Valley uses folk dance and song to help teach the different systems of the human body. This short introduction to folk dance helped our 4th & 5th graders embody a steady beat and prepare them for their 8-week ballroom dance residency with local dance instructor, Pat Belec, in January 2011.  In addition to the Human Body System dances, our winter concert also featured the Morning Musician and Rock Bands, and a dance that I learned from Michelle Quigg at World Music Drumming workshops two summers ago.  The kids love this dance, which we often use as part of our Humanities classes with K/1 and 4/5.   Here is a short video clip highlighting the concert: 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Community Partnerships and Marimba!

Betsy, Tasha and Sarah from The Canvas teach Zimbabwean Marimba
to Glacier Valley 3rd and 4th graders

El Sistema utilizes the power of community partnerships and networks to help run its centers throughout the country.  It has successfully struck a balance between local autonomy to reflect the needs of each community, while at the same time creating a national program that gives students from even the remotest areas opportunities to grow and challenge themselves musically.

Our Art is Elementary program at Glacier Valley also partners with community organizations to provide our students with rich arts experiences.  One of those partners is The Canvas, Juneau's community arts studio, which offers classes in an inclusive environment for adults, youth and individuals with disabilities.  Last year the Canvas provided expert potters for an after-school Clay Studio.  This year, their teaching artists taught a marimba workshop to our 3rd and 4th grade students as part of a two-week artist residency. The Artist in the Schools program is made possible through a partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmusson Foundation and the Glacier Valley Parent Group.

Vaipuna plays the bass or the "elder" of the Marimba family who speaks little, but whose voice carries much weight
The Canvas purchased this 7-piece Zimbabwean Marimba set for its clients because of its accessibility and community building potential.  After offering Marimba classes to the community, they wanted to offer these beautiful instruments to local schools through the artist-in the-schools program and hoped Glacier Valley would help pilot it.  We were happy to work with The Canvas again, particularly on this project because it exposed our students to a new musical experience grounded in ensemble.  Thanks to Auke Bay Elementary School, who loaned us several of their Orff xylophones, our music room was fully equipped so that every child could play a mallet instrument.

Betsy Sims, Sarah Newsham and Tasha Walen are Canvas teaching artists who offer marimba as part of the Canvas' community class offerings for children and adults. This residency has been beneficial to both organizations.  The Canvas hopes to expose our Glacier Valley families to the kinds of arts programs they offer downtown, while Glacier Valley students experience ensemble playing with a beautiful instrument unaffordable to the school.  Glacier Valley has also offered to loan its African drums to the Canvas so that they can offer youth workshops during the summer months.  Together, Glacier Valley and Canvas are sharing resources, reaching more students and building a larger audience interested in community arts opportunities.

Here is a short video documenting the rehearsal process.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday Morning Rock Band

Rod Crist teaches Eric, one of our 5th graders, the electric bass

During my Abreu Fellowship last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Venezuela to observe how each music center or "nucleo" reflected the unique culture and needs of its community.  El Sistema capitalizes on the social experience of ensemble to motivate students, and throughout my two-month travels there, I saw ensembles of all kinds, many of which took place in the same center including folk, classical, choral, jazz and percussion.  Witnessing such a variety of ensembles shattered any preconceived notion I had that El Sistema was purely an orchestral program.

What inspired me the most was the ability of each nucleo to find opportunities for these ensembles to play together.  Instruments that I had never imagined playing alongside one another were doing so effortlessly.  I remember vividly a community concert of 500 musicians performing the Venezuelan national anthem - choir accompanied by a full orchestra and a Venezuelan folk ensemble strumming alongside them.   El Sistema removed any musical barriers that might have existed between these distinct ensembles and demonstrated beautifully the unifying power of music.  Thanks to my time in Venezuela, I came back to Juneau with an entirely different vision of what ensemble might look like in Juneau.  Thank you, FENOJIV, for this wonderful gift.

Standing with members of a Venezuelan Folk Ensemble
At Glacier Valley, we already had a guitar club and morning band, but the two groups had never played together.  My trip to Venezuela changed all of that.  When I returned to Juneau,  I talked with Rod Crist, guitar club instructor, about ways to bring these two ensembles together in a meaningful way.  I shared with him my visit to a Boston school, where an entire 5th grade class played in a rock band, every Friday afternoon.  Their program was inspired by School of Rock, which offers students ages 7 - 18 the opportunity to play in a band in front of a live audience.  Rick Saunders, the school's music teacher, helped the classroom teacher run the rock band, which included vocals, drums, guitars, keyboard, brass and woodwinds.  Students explored the musical genre of rock and roll while developing music skills in improvisation and chord structure.  These two experiences helped inspire the launching of Glacier Valley's Rock Band!

Both Rod and I were new at this, but I remembered another fundamental from Venezuela: "Don't wait, just start!"  Fortunately for us, Ben Martinez came along (left photo).  He was a new transplant to Juneau and had begun an after-school rock band program for elementary students in Maryland, called Treehouse School of Music.  With funding from a Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grant administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Ben was able to join our team to share the work he did back in Maryland, as well as inspire our young musicians.  Morning band and guitar members who mastered certain skills in their respective ensembles were invited to join this Friday morning jam session.  Needless to say, the importance of practice took on a whole new meaning as students lined-up to "pass off" on their music.

Instead of playing in the friendly key of C, the Rock Band wind section had to challenge themselves to play in the key of E and B to accommodate the guitars.  Clarinets and trumpets had to master notes not introduced in the beginning band book until much later, but because these notes were repeated over and over again throughout the rock songs in an exciting way, success came quickly and easily.

The wind section of our rock band takes on more challenging keys with enthusiasm!

Another unexpected benefit was the inclusion of a Morning Musician alum (8th grader, Quinn) whose brother currently plays trumpet at Glacier Valley.  Thanks to the dedication of his dad who drives Quinn to school after Rock Band practice, Quinn is able to join us on drums, as well as help teach one of our fifith graders how to play the drum set.  Next step:  student rock band vocalists!

Quinn and his dad help connect our elementary program with the middle school
Quinn's participation helps bridge elementary with middle school and foster peer mentoring, two more fundamentals of El Sistema.  Quinn's dad, Russell, also secured a donation of a drum set for our band, another example of why one shouldn't wait ... things will eventually fall into place.  Thank you, Russell, and all Glacier Valley parents who support their child's musical development by getting them here at 7 a.m.  Some of our students now come to school at 7 a.m. four times a week - playing in band, guitar club and Rock Band.  We have a total of 47 students (almost half of the entire 4th & 5th grade student body) choosing to come to school early for these musical opportunities.  Clearly, music motivates and engages kids, giving school life! 

Here's a short clip of the rock band in rehearsal.  For my Facebook friends, you can access the movie on Juneau Music Matters blog:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Morning Musicians: Band and Guitar Clubs

The flute section of Glacier Valley's Morning Musician program rehearse separately for the first month to master skills specific to their instrument

One reader asked if Glacier Valley still offers its early morning band program for 4th and 5th graders called Morning Musicians.  We certainly do and its going strong!  Currently we have thirty-five students coming to school twice a week at 7 a.m. to learn how to play the clarinet, trumpet or flute.

Initially funded through a Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grant, Morning Musicians is now funded through the Juneau School District.  For the first month, each section meets with an instructor to learn skills specific to their instrument and then join together in October to begin playing as an ensemble.  Many thanks to Bill Paulick from Juneau Brass and Winds, Sharon Denton and Rachel Sielbach for helping me make that first month a successful one.  

Also this year, thanks to our guidance counselor, Rod Crist, we've added a morning Guitar Club for 4th and 5th graders. Rod incorporates music therapy as part of his curriculum teaching Skills for a Healthy Life and has written songs to promote positive social skilss, self-esteem and coping skills.  As the kids say, "Mr. C Rocks!" And he does, every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. teaching our students traditional American folk songs.  As Rod's assistant, I hope to learn as much as I can along the way.

Fortunately,  GAMA (Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association) and its partners, NAMM (International Music Products Association) and MENC (The National Association for Music Education) offer summer guitar workshops every year for music teachers all over the country.  As a MENC member, I can take this class for $300 and come away with one-week of guitar lessons geared for teaching in the classroom, a guitar, curriculum materials and 3 graduate credits from Duquesne University.  For more information on this incredible opportunity:  Get Guitar in Your School!

Learning anything requires practice, which makes meeting only once a week for guitar club a challenge.  So how do we get in more practice time as an ensemble?  Answer:  the Guitar Club became the back-up band for a school performance incorporating folk dance and song to help teach science concepts. The 4th and 5th grades at Glacier Valley were studying the systems of the human body, so the P.E. teacher, music teacher and counselor decided to combine their classes in the gym to help reinforce these science concepts through movement and song. 

Doug Eldon's Lyrical Life Science Series uses the melodies of traditional folk songs to teach science.  He has four books:  Earth Science, Human Body, Plants and Mammals, and I highly recommend them.  By adapting the folk dances that the students had learned from the New England Dance Master Series, we were able to combine science, dance, song and guitar all in one! 

Did the kids mind the repetition?  Not at all.  The students enjoyed the physical and social aspect of dance (as well as waiting their turn to sashay down the set) while the guitarists felt a sense of purpose, providing the music for rehearsal, day after day.  By the time our school performance came around, guitar chords were habitual and science concepts, ingrained.   See for yourself: