More on Active Listening – Unpacking Winter 1st Movt in the Classroom

This is a follow up post to the previous post on Modeling the Learning – Winter 1st Movt.

Those of you reading this post that know little about the Captivate Strings Program across 12 Catholic Primary Schools in Western Sydney might not realise the connections that we make from a concert such as the end of year Strings Concert at St Finbar’s Catholic Church, to the learning in our ensembles. But we even make connections from the performances in the concert (both staff & student performances) to make links to musical concepts and skills in the classroom. Better yet, is the motivational effect of showing this video to a year 3 class. It gives them a ‘can do’ attitude to see their teachers and their peers in other schools performing and realising that they too can achieve this level of performance. (Click here to read my previous post on Captivate Strings – Reflecting on Our Beginnings & Where to From Here?)

When I showed this video of our Captivate Staff Chamber Orchestra to year 3 music classes in one of our schools on the following Wednesday, there were some amazing responses from the students. Let me add here that there is nothing quite so exciting as a live performance. To really get that spark of excitement, there needs to be communication and instantaneous feedback between performers and audience, but that is the topic of an upcoming blog post.

What was really exciting was the attention and focus that each class demonstrated and the amazing questions. These were year 3 classes that had no prior learning in playing a stringed instrument and the only previous experience they had of orchestral performance of any kind was what I showed them on Youtube. I have given the Class Teachers CD’s to play in class each day.

Here are some samples of the kinds of questions and a summary of the best answers I could muster on the spot – my answers are not important. What is important here is the hunger for understanding from students with very little prior learning or understanding in music. These students are now demonstrating much higher levels of Active Listening (Click Here to read my previous post: Activate Your Listening) than when the program first began in this school – it would be interesting to see what evidence we have of Active Listening translating to other learning areas  – both in the classroom and at home.

Year 3 Girl: “Why did you perform this piece of music in a Church?” Me: “2 reasons – 1st being that this particular church has great acoustics – without microphones on the instruments, the music really reflects all around and sounds great. Note the stone walls and stone floor and you can’t see the beautiful timber paneling but that also reflects the sound” I also likened the acoustics to “singing in the shower” and asked the students who sang in the shower? and Why they sang in the shower. The 2nd reason I gave for us performing in a church opened a door to mention a bit about Vivaldi and that he was in fact a Catholic Priest but taught music and composed music for the Church. In fact many composers and musicians worked for the Church and much music was Composed for the church. I was also able to mention a bit about the Cathedrals and the marvelous acoustics and massive size – so there was a bit of European history and Church history as well. Everyone listened with great intent and we were able to unpack so much from such a simple question as “Why did you perform in a Church?”.

Year 3 Boy: “How many times did the Staff Orchestra Practise before performing?” This question was such a gift. This boy was seeking to understand how musicians – students or teachers – attained a high level of performance. I answered this question by using the analogy of team sports as this school has a strong sporting background. I asked them who played soccer and many hands shot up – both boys and girls. I asked them what they would do if they had a big match coming up. The answers came back as I expected – 1. practise ball skills at home or in the park. 2. a couple of training sessions per week 3. The BIG match. Some of the children in the class have taken up the co-curricular lessons with our specialist teacher and have their own instrument, so this was an opportunity to make the comparison between practising ball skills individually for the big match and practising each day on their instrument to improve skill level. The class was amazed when I told them that our Staff Chamber Orchestra had only run through the piece once together before the concert (myself included) but this was possible because of the individual practice that they did in the weeks leading up to the concert ? 😉 and that they are all professional musicians and often required to just look at music and play it – but even sight-reading music is a skill that comes with much practice.

Now – all of the questions asked by these students were just great and lead us into deeper learning and understanding BUT here is the golden one – and I make this point that teachers (myself included) need to always be on the alert to their own “active listening”. This boy asked the question in a very small and timid voice: “Is this music similar to other music?” Well….. I very nearly dismissed this as a silly question (And that is what I mean by always making certain that we are listening actively to our students) when the girl next to him translated for me “I think he means, is this piece by Vivaldi similar to other pieces by Vivaldi?” WOW!! So this boy was actually asking me about musical similarities by the same composer. This boy just didn’t have the language to say what he meant but thankfully, his friend sitting next to him had more understanding of his meaning than I did.

This wonderful question gave me the opportunity to first of all pick up my violin and play our simple version of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusic” (This piece is in String Things Level 1 and the class had already learned the open strings version) They shook their heads and said “No, we don’t know that one”. So I said: “Well, we’ve listened to music enough today. Let’s play”. So I worked them through their first couple of pieces and then launched them into their own version of Eine Kleine – The lightbulb came on!!! They immediately recognized it. So I asked them who composed it. They could not remember BUT when I asked if it was by Vivaldi, I got a definite NO – then scrolled down so they could see the title and we revised a bit about Mozart and Classical Music.

Lastly – we had actually been learning the melody part for the Theme from Autumn in the String Things Book 1 that we use as our classroom method

We were also able to basically play on open strings the main rhythmic motif of the 1st movement of Winter – I then  played them the opening bars of octaves from Summer and then we played as a class ensemble our simple arrangement of Autumn – All this in a class of 30 year 3 students with little previous musical learning.

This week, the door is open for a wonderful lesson of comparing “Contrast & Unity” by the one composer and comparing with other composers – all the material is in the String Things Level 1 Books  but more experienced classes – even into secondary, could have such a musicological discovery lesson in the String Things Level 2 books as well.

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys of learning” Plato


About captivatestrings

Phil Rooke is a Teacher Educator, specializing in Music Education for the Catholic Education Office - Diocese of Parramatta, authoring & implementing teaching programs and leading music learning across a system of 78 schools in Western Sydney. "I am on a learning journey to find and invent better ways to motivate students and teachers in music making."
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