This fall I took on the position
of elementary school music teacher for two months. The woman who
usually holds the job was on maternity leave. I taught five to seven
classes each day for four days a week, grades K-5. Barbieri School
is a large Framingham, Massachusetts public school, comprising over
600 students, including bilingual and special education classes.
I saw most of them!
The biggest challenges for me were
learning all the students' names (something I never quite mastered
- although I was getting there) and learning to "decode"
music both rhythmically and tonally. I was already pretty good at
teaching rounds and simple songs, as well as encouraging sound effects
in stories, but there was so much ELSE to learn! I felt as if my
head was ready to explode the first two weeks, just gettting used
to the schedule and planning a different lesson for each class.
As the weeks went on I settled in, enjoying the children and the
I now have a heightened respect
for music teachers in general, and particularly for the ones at
the Barbieri School. Their goals were clear and well articulated,
and they made music fun through a variety of techniques, primarily
using Solfege, Kodaly and Orff games and activities. I'm still not
sure of the hand signs which accompany "do," "me"
"sol" and the rest, but my sight singing improved a lot,
and I even figured out how to design a "tic tac toe" game
to encourage note reading for third and fourth graders.
The first graders (all 120 of them)
presented a program of six fall songs to the parents, including
two rounds, which they sang well in two parts. The fifth graders
(under great protest) learned and performed a traditional English
country dance, a Morris dance called "Shepherd's Hay."
And the fourth graders greatly improved their music reading and
recorder skills, while all of the students, grades 2 and up, sang
rounds and more rounds in two, three and sometimes even four parts.
Although I'm looking forward to getting a lot more sleep now, I'll
miss the kids and the teaching.
School Drama in Franklin
Another job I picked
up this summer involved teaching drama to middle school students,
grades 6-8. The Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School in Franklin,
MA has instituted an "arts block" every Tuesday afternoon.
This 90-minute time period is for the students' electives - they
choose a class to take for one trimester. Offerings include beginning
guitar, public speaking, crafts and drawing, jazz band - and my
specialty, drama. In drama class we've been doing lots of improvisations,
some mime, theater games, and most recently, reading Thornton Wilder's
"Our Town." Now the students are working on scenes from
"Our Town" which they will present to the 4th and 5th
graders as well as at an assisted living facility nearby.
My next project (for
the second semester) is to direct the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical,
"The Sound of Music." Auditions are Nov. 18 and 19th,
and we start rehearsals right after Thanksgiving. I have a great
production staff, and we expect to have a cast of 30-40 kids.
Players' "Wizard of Oz"
At age 9, my daughter
has caught the acting bug. An excellent musician, she played "Charlie
Brown" in our elementary school production of the musical "You're
a Good Man, Charlie Brown" last spring. So when we saw auditions
for "The Wizard of Oz" listed in the newspaper back in
September, we thought we'd give it a try. She was cast as a Munchkin
(along with 85 other children who showed up.)
The Southboro Players'
production of "The Wizard of Oz" was a fun experience
for us. I helped backstage, painting sets, doing lights, and generally
learning as much as I possible about the process of mounting a big
musical with a huge cast and a myriad of scene changes and special
effects. Laura wasn't quite as thrilled with the experience: although
she loved being a Munchkin, she wasn't onstage for very long and
had to wait in a hot, noisy room with the rest of the kids for the
whole rest of the show to end before taking her curtain call.
Still, we're both sorry
it's over and happy we participated. And I hope to work with the
Southboro Players again soon - they're a great bunch of people.