Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xylophone!

Earlier in the A to Z blogging challenge I discussed popular music programs for children under K is for Kodály. One of the programs I mentioned that I highly admire is the Orff Approach, largely because I agree with the basic belief that children should ideally learn music the same way they learn language, through making music.

I remember my favorite part of teaching Kindermusik was when the kids all received their little glockenspiels. They were cute and made such a pretty little sounds.

I am addicted to percussion instruments, particularly xylophones, marimbas, concert bells, and other barred instruments, which is odd for a flute and mandolin player, I suppose. I even played the marimba in marching band during high school, but mostly I love the tiny ones in the hands of little kids.

In honor of Orff, X is for Xylophone.

After teaching children's music using only glocks and tone bars, I remember purchasing a metallophone as a personal birthday present one year, stalking it on ebay and then sniping it. I was so excited when I won and would always look forward to when I could justify bringing it in to classes. In the Montessori and homeschool programs it was easy to incorporate, but Kindermusik was far more constructed. However, there was enough flexibility that I was able to share it with the kids now and then, substituting it for the tone bars common with the program.

Giving children a chance to take a part in a group setting, playing their part and experiencing how it fits into the whole musical composition is a wonderful opportunity for children. Of course, it's one my younger two completely missed out on in a group class situation, because they were too busy making music in a group family situation. Ultimately, I don't think it hindered their musical development.

Orff and those cute little Orff arrangements are designed for settings that are, in truth, not natural to musical experiences for children. They fit a wonderful need in a classroom setting, but prior to the last century and a half, most children were learning music the way they really did learn language, by participating in it, only their participation was simply a natural extension of life.

Yesterday at Jamestowne we had a wonderful conversation with one of the men in character working on the ships. He talked about the many things they did to pass the four months at sea, stuck on the "tween" deck. They would play games, tell stories, and sing. They would sing a lot. In fact, everyone sang and knew many songs. This passed the dreary days, made light of work, and helped lonely sailors keep their sanity in dark, crowded conditions.

The twins went through all of my Kindermusik, Montessori, and homeschool programs, so they experienced the basics in Kodály, Orff, and more. Sean was in classes from infancy, but before he reached the glockenspiel class, I stopped teaching and he went straight to violin lessons. He was not doing well in the classroom settings anyway.

Mary was never in any of the classes. By the time she was born, her older siblings were all involved in private music lessons. She still danced with me, we sang songs, and she enjoyed a lot of music making on the side. I never taught her to keep a steady beat or match pitch. She was singing in tune almost as early as she was speaking because she liked to participate with the family. Now and then I would help her find her singing voice if she was singing something that challenged her range, just to make it easier for her, but I have always been fairly hands-off with my little kids on their singing, loving the natural expression.

Part of me wishes she could have experienced a group class, since she's very social, but trying to teach Mary with Orff and Kodály at home would never work. It would be awkward. I know, because when the twins were in the 3rd grade we temporarily joined up with an online charter school and I saw first hand what happens when you take a program meant for institutionalized settings and stand in your living room with mom instead. Awkward. 

However, I kind of wish I had pulled out my lovely metallophone and took off all of the bars that didn't match the chords for Old Dan Tucker, then let her have at it when she was three. That would have been a blast!

What is right for one setting completely fails in another. I understand why Orff and Kodály developed their methods. They fit a very needed void when music was taken out of the family/community and put into schools. Children are natural music makers and it's always a privilege to share it with them, no matter the setting.

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