This past week was the Iowa Music Educators’ Association annual conference. The conference takes place at Iowa State University in conjunction with the OPUS Honor Choirs (5-9 grade) and All-State festival for choir, band, and orchestra. I had two students participating: one in the 5-6 Elementary OPUS Choir, and one in the high school All-State Choir. Both students really enjoyed the experience, and represented our school well!
During the conference, while not shepherding students around, I was able to attend several sessions on general music and choral topics. One was a choral reading session based on multicultural music from around the world. I really enjoy reading sessions where you get to keep copies of all of the music, because then you can really take it home and look through it at your own pace.
I also spent time in three different sessions by Kodaly-trained teachers. I really appreciate their organization and focus on sequential instruction. Tom Mahalek, one of the presenters, made a great comment about Orff and Kodaly teachers. He said (paraphrase):
Come January 15, if it suddenly starts snowing outside, the Orff teacher throws open the curtains, maybe throws on the coats, dances in the snow, writes a poem about snow, and creates a snow-themed performance. The Kodaly teacher closes the curtains and continues with the planned lesson, which happens to be about rain.
I love this story. Of course, I have never had any official Kodaly training, but my natural tendency is to be more like the Kodaly teacher in this story than the Orff teacher. I think that’s why Orff Schulwerk has spoken so much to me over the years. When I see teachers and students who can create a meaningful, aesthetic, learning experience out of practically anything, I am in awe. And I know, for me at least, this will always be a bigger and more important challenge than making sure that my fourth graders can read every combination of sixteenth and eighth notes perfectly.
That being said, in the past few years, I have definitely strayed (probably too far) away from a clear, sequential curriculum. Partly this has been due to circumstance: I began my current position at Malcolm Price Laboratory School only one year ago, and it includes two multi-level groups of classes (PreK-K and 1St/2nd). Anytime you start a new position, it’s starting over from square zero, spending a lot of time finding out what the students already know/don’t know. The multi-age classes have the added effect of making a single-year, repertoire-based curriculum obsolete after one year. Sure, a bit of review in repertoire is expected and enjoyed. But the kids would get pretty bored if I taught everything the same way for the second year in a row.
Besides, is a standardized repertoire really what I want for my students, or for myself? There will always be more cultures, styles, and individual pieces of music (and dances) than I can ever hope to teach to all of my children. Likewise, each curricular goal in melody, rhythm, form, etc., can be achieved with a wide variety of pieces and activities. Sure, I might have some favorites that I believe all of my students should learn. But most importantly, I want them to value music so much that they continue to make it and learn about it for the rest of their lives.
I think where I’m heading (and where I was at my last job)
is a sequential curriculum based on grade level expectations of skills, and experiences, combined with a large database of songs and activities, catalogued by all their possible curricular uses. Of course, I have this started in about twelve different formats. I want something that’s digital, easily accessible, easily editable, and thorough in its content.
What do you think? Should I start an online database of songs, dances, and activities, open to the public online for viewing and adding? There are very few such repositories in existence. I really think, if our goal is improving education for children, then we need to share our resources.