Friday, January 23, 2015

Opera for All, Semester Two!

Justin Berkowitz, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

Well, while we’re only two weeks into the winter and spring semester of Opera for All at McAuliffe Elementary School (thanks to a snow day at the beginning of the month) things are already off and running for the fifth grade students!

This week was an exciting and important one, as we began the process of transforming the amazing lyrics that our students wrote during the fall into a melody that will guide and shape the song, which will be written for them to perform during their shows.  Our kids have some really cool and crazy plots involving very hungry dinosaurs, drowning dinosaurs and some evil dinosaur robots!  One of the challenges that comes with transforming these lyrics into a song is just getting all of the kids to remember how each of the different verses go – but with a little encouragement from Kaitlin and myself, they start “rapping” their words in no time.

Since McAuliffe doesn’t have a music program where the kids are learning solfege or sight reading, it was up to Kaitlin and I to figure out how to go about teaching them about pitch and the order of pitches for writing a melody.  This is a difficult concept to explain to even classically trained singers and music teachers – so figuring out how to adopt some of our training for fifth graders took a little bit of time! 

We decided that the best route was to teach them a basic diatonic scale using numbers (1 through 5) and create a sort of “number bank” that the kids could utilize while making melody.  We started by teaching the kids that any song can be sung on numbers.  Jingle Bells seemed like an easy one to transfer to numbers (3 3 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5 1…2, 3 etc.) so we started by singing this song with them on numbers.  Then, we broke the kids up into groups and had them start composing – asking them in groups of three or four students to fill a box with some numbers. The only rule is that for each box (or measure) you have to have 4 numbers between 1 and 5.  With that information, the kids were off, thinking of little diatonic melodies without even realizing they were composing!!!

As the kids filled their boxes with numbers, we created a larger chart on the board, so that every small group could offer up one box (measure) that would be on the board, which leaves us with somewhere between 6 and 8 measures to start with.  The next step will come next week as we try and organize these little measures to make the most beautiful melody we can! 

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