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Music Assemblies Fill Many Needs

Photo courtesy of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra

Recent school cutbacks in music education have put added pressure on community symphonies and other groups that bring music education into the classroom.

“The more the schools are faced with cutbacks, the more the orchestras are being invited to come in,” says Krishna Thiagarajan, president of Symphony in C Orchestra in Camden, NJ. “But, it’s a difficult proposition because orchestra programs are designed to support, not replace existing programs in schools.”

Teaching the Basics

When students have a limited knowledge of music and instruments, school assembly programs must pick up the slack. The Symphony in C offers a classroom program in which an ensemble of four or five musicians and the assistant conductor play and discuss classical music. Kids learn how the instruments function and sound, and how musicians work together creatively.

Many children today are unfamiliar with classical music, even compositions designed for kids such as Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Toy Symphony. Outside groups can bring these classics to students in a fun and interesting manner. For example, when it presents Peter and the Wolf, Symph­ony in C assigns different instruments to particular characters in the piece.

“We give each of the instruments a personality that the kids can relate to,” explains Thiagarajan.

Combining Music with Curriculum

A new trend integrates music assembly programs with schools’ core subjects, including math, science, English and social studies. “This fosters students’ multiple intelligences in learning, so we’re gearing our music programs to what’s relevant in the students’ lives,” explains Lisa Vaupel, education programs coordinator for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.

Adventures with Fractions is an interactive program that gives students an understanding of simple fractions and their use in music by talking about how time is divided into parts. The course culminates in the students composing their own music, which the Delaware Symphony’s string quartet plays.

“Kids love it because it’s their own work and they understand that by making the fractions add up to these whole units, they’ve created music,” says Vaupel.

Lesson guides are available to support teachers in using music to enhance the teaching of core subjects.

For example, in the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s Scheherazade program, smart board lessons are available in geography, as well as a lesson in ancient Persian art and history. The unit culminated in a field trip to the Symphony to hear the piece the students had learned about on many levels.

Incorporating Relatable Themes

Schools are eager to bring in assemblies related to anti-bullying, and some include a music component. Willow Grove, PA-based electric violinist Caryn Lin incorporates stories about not being bullied into her program Bach to Rock. She says her presentation combines performance, music education and self-esteem building.           

Other popular themes for music enrichment programs include anti-violence, character building and conflict resolution.

Keeping Students’ Attention

It helps to have a hook that draw kids in, whether it involves a discussion or big-screen videos that relate to the music. Creatively incorporating technology into music programs often heightens students’ interest, particularly for older kids who require more detailed programs.

Caryn Lin recently added a Power Point presentation to give her program a visual component. “When I would talk about electronics, the kids could never see it before, so now there are pictures and fun illustrations that go along with the show,” she says.

“You have to be much more interactive with your student crowd,” says Thiagarajan.

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids

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