Thursday, November 29, 2012

A setback is just a setup for future success: Beginnings at Cameron

Amanda Compton, COT Teaching Artist

After much turmoil surrounding the teachers' strike and other various scheduling issues, we were finally able to bring our program to Cameron Elementary two weeks ago.  With a lucky twist of fate, we now have the students for an hour and forty minutes instead of just the normal hour, which will allow us to incorporate our lyricist, Alyssa Sorresso, this fall semester.  I have already had the privilege of working with Alyssa at Reilly Elementary to create lyrics reflecting everything from a heartfelt decision regarding divorced parents to a wacky language from outer space, and I am very excited to see what new ground we can explore at Cameron.

Cameron students with Teaching Artist, Richard

It is already clear that we have some seriously creative minds at Cameron.  Two of the children are veteran musicians of a local choir, two are percussionists in band, and a few others have shown us their enthusiasm for acting games.  But it is also clear that the group has some challenges to overcome.   We have one student that only speaks Spanish and needs our instructions translated during class.  We also have a few different age groups that are in different phases of their educational journey.  Therefore, my partner teacher, Richard Blakeney, and I decided it was most important to give the group a good foundation for working together and becoming a successful ensemble for their future production.  We made our expectations clear, and asked them what kind of behavior they thought would contribute to the production in a constructive way.  Together, we made this list of important elements:

Be respectful
Raise your hand to speak
Be courageous and participate during every session
Trust each other and work together to be creative 
Show responsibility by being prepared and doing what's asked of you
Be courteous and don't say bad words
Pay attention
Be honest

Once we all felt safe to express ourselves, the rest of the day was fun filled and energetic!  We began with an acting game that required the students to walk from their seat in the auditorium up to a lone folding chair.  The trick was to be a character other than yourself, and to show that character in your physicality alone.  The kids were already learning to take risks and add specificity to their motions when their character was not clear the first time.  Doctor Who was an especially and surprisingly popular source of inspiration...perfectly apropos of our outer space theme this year!

For the rest of class we honed in on rhythm.  I played some different excerpts of music, ranging from Black Eyed Peas, to Mozart, to Gershwin, and asked the kids to find the beat.  Most of the kids clapped to show the beat.  So I asked them to find the beat a different way, with a different part of their body.  Then silently.  Then "faster" or "slower" to get them attuned to different subdivisions of the beat.  They started to listen more actively, and became attuned to what their peers were doing with the directions until they were in sync with one another.  We delved even further into rhythm by learning the pulse of a quarter note, eighth note, triplet, and sixteenth note.  We related each note to a common, everyday object:

quarter note=phone
Eighth note=apple

Once they got the hang of those pulses and different permutations of the order, we learned how musicians notate those rhythms, and created some original rhythms.  We then did solo and ensemble performances of the musical bars.  It was very inspiring to see the shyest children give it a try in front of their peers, and even better, to succeed.  I think we have a good balance of leaders and hard workers in this class, and I am looking forward to see where this unique and gifted group of children takes their show.  Be courageous, Cameron!  I will be there rooting for you!

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