Spotted in Manila, 2014

Sunday, December 29, 2013

1st Semester at PS 11

In October I began teaching music at New York City's PS 11 William T Harris as part of Juilliard's Morse Teaching Artist Fellowship. Since this has been only my second experience working with classes of American children, I have been learning so much about teaching, as if I am actually in a foreign country like the Philippines or Kenya. I have also learned so much about creating a curriculum and long-term goals as this teaching project will be over the course of seven months, rather than 2-4 weeks like my projects in the past.  Every week, I work with the same two classes of 30 second graders for 45 minutes each, and for one of these classes, I teach with another Juilliard teaching fellow.

The students at PS 11 are very fortunate to have a diverse and colorful school with a large variety of offered activities. Other than my classes (they call them "Juilliard classes") the students take classes in chess, ballroom dancing, and swimming, as well as another weekly music class where they learn songs and keyboard skills. So, my lessons have been so fun to plan as I always teach in an aesthetic teaching model. This style of teaching music (or any art form) involves discovering a new concept by giving the students a safe environment to problem solve as if they are composers or performers, then therefore having the necessary skills to listen to real masterpiece that is an example of the new learned concept. This model strives to teach a deeper understanding of the concept by having the students create their own musical works which utilizes it, rather than just defining and forcing memorization of new terms.

I spent this semester focusing on teaching new musical terms and elements, so that as a class we can continue to use these ideas as the year goes on. I would like all of this to culminate in a large composition project and performance by the students at the end of the year. Here are the concepts I taught and the corresponding masterwork which I paired it with as an example of utilizing the technique:

  • Melody vs. accompaniment (Stravinsky: Suite for petite orchestra, Mvt. 1)
  • Subito dynamics, forte vs. piano (Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture)
  • Rondo form (Mozart: Bassoon Concerto, Mvt. 3)
  • Theme and variations form (Copland: Simple Gifts Theme)
  • Minimalism (Ligeti: Six Bagatelles)
  • Ostinato (Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine)
  • Musical argument (Nielsen: Woodwind Quintet, Mvt. 4)

Each of these lessons begins with a warm up game to being thinking in the direction of the topic. Next is a short introduction to the topic and a composition main activity where the students create a piece of music using the new concept in small groups. After rehearsal time, each group performs and discusses their work for the class. The lesson finishes by listening to and discussing the master work the class has been aiming toward. This closing activity ideally gives a sense of revelation about the new concept, as well as empowerment for having created their own composition. 

I have been consistently amazed at the creative ways the students problem solve as composers and performers. Even when I assign a task with strict guidelines, they find beautiful ways to create music with their bodies and push boundaries. 

The students have also progressed incredibly as composers in the last semester. I am excited to see where they are at the end of our time together in May!

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