Ah, remember September and October? Those blissful months when possibilities seemed infinite. The pressure of presenting programs seemed to be in the distant future. You and the students were getting to know each other in playful ways. Activities were full of exploration. Energy was high, and there was plenty of time ahead to improve skills and rehearse for performances. Now that it is January, this seems like a distant memory.
Those performance times have descended, and the added pressure to produce something “worth seeing and listening to” often causes teachers to put a lid on all that fun (exploration and creativity) in an effort to polish a finished product. December may be history but, as music teachers, it is important to showcase student work throughout the year. Part of the job is to engage and educate the community about the value of music and movement in the lives of young learners. What better way to show this than to bring the classroom to the stage – no matter how large or small?
Many of those simple reaction games and introductory activities from the fall hold the key to keeping the skills fresh – and the learning moving forward – as you prepare for late winter and spring performances. Word chains, building bricks, small rhythmic and melodic forms can be re-purposed, expanded and included in a variety of settings with added movement, instruments or poetry. The list goes on.
Advanced planning around thematic ideas provides limitless possibilities right up to the moment of the show – whether it be an informance (informal sharing) or a performance.
By choosing interesting themes, students have structures to generate word and rhythmic patterns to create melodies and movement, as well as story lines. If you need to shift to a new theme, those same creations will undergo changes in texts, tempo, tonal centers, meter, form, or mood. The idea that music and movement is adaptable and ever-changing – something that was created can be re-created – becomes a valuable artistic discovery!
It is also a basic premise of elemental music and movement that beginning with small patterns and structures, musical and movement creations build upon themselves and grow into more complex ideas. This continual flow of ideas, which morph into new possibilities, is a cornerstone of our collaborative work with students. It is important that students learn while on the job, as play is the work of children
Share what is happening in the classroom, whether it is for the class next door or in a large setting. It sends the message that the work the students do in class is worthy and that music and movement were made for sharing and enjoying, and creates momentum for larger projects.
Keep a log of lessons and experiences that have inspired and engaged the students. Remembering what went well will also keep your creative juices going, and prevent the inevitable mid-year slump that occurs when it seems that the students are not learning or retaining skills and concepts. Reinforce those skills while moving sideways to a new theme or story to gain a little more traction and ramp up the energy. This may also be the time to add new concepts; framing something new – or more difficult – within the context of familiar experiences makes for more secure and deeper understanding of new material.
While children appreciate the security of knowing what to expect when preparing for a sharing, try to remain somewhat fluid right up to the moment of performance. When rehearsing gets tedious and pieces seem ‘tired,’ it’s time to call up the ABA dance where the B section is improvised, or the musical selection where students change instrument parts, or the crowd scene where you must improvise your conversations and movement. Providing opportunities for students to learn more than one part makes it challenging for them and easy for you when you need to make last minute substitutions.
Raising the bar on teaching creatively pays off in teaching creativity. By doing so, you actually reduce the stress of generating more and more material with fewer results. Use less material and use it creatively. You may find this approach more fulfilling and more meaningful for you and those you teach. Keep the big picture in view and it will keep those creative possibilities open!