Submitted by Heather Kirby - Music Teacher at Dr. Thomas J. Curran Early Childhood Education Center and the Riverdale Elementary School - Dedham, MA
A sailboat is great for enjoying the water, or traveling to distant lands. With a properly equipped
sailboat, and favorable weather conditions, one can easily spend hours out on the sea,
connecting with nature, oneself, friends, or even different cultures.
The theme of the Early Childhood Music and MovementAssociation's 2008 International Convention was "Sailing Through Musical Connections." As this theme might suggest, the musicianship we are cultivating in young children may be likened to a sailing trip. The first thing one considers before embarking on a day of sailing is the wind. Without wind, there is not much of a trip. The first thing we need in setting sail on our journey of musical development is movement. As wind brings the sails to life, movement brings music to life. For young children, meaning is brought to music through movement-flowing movement, gentle or strong, fast or slow, heavy or light, and everything in between. We can say our musician-ship (pun intended) sets sail with the movement ofthe wind.
In order to keep from drifting, a sailboat needs a keel, otherwise the boat would only go in the direction the wind blows, and the rudder would be useless. To keep from drifting in music, we need to be conscious of the resting tone and the micro-beat and macro-beat. Without a sense of resting tone, good intonation is impossible and without a sense of macro/micro-beat, meter and tempo are erratic. In guiding the development of our students' musicianship, we need to equip them with a sense of resting tone and macro/micro-beat so they can stay on course.
The rudder helps us to choose our direction, but how can we choose a direction without a sense of where we are? Navigating through unfamiliar waters requires a map and a compass and some skill in using the two. Luckily, in music, a sense of where we are is easily established through providing a context, tonally and rhythmically. Tonally, to provide interesting ventures, we vary our contexts and include major, minor, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Locrian tonalities. Rhythmically, we include triple, duple, and asymmetrical meters. Singing the resting tone and characteristic tonal patterns, and/or chanting characteristic rhythm patterns further establishes context.
Now that we know where we are, we can use the rudder to choose our direction. Musically, we can return the same way we came, or choose a different path. Equipping our students with tools for exploration, creativity, and improvisation gives them the ability to go somewhere else and to make their musical journey their own.
After journeying for a while, we may want to rest, so we'll drop anchor. During music class, this anchoring time is silence. As the teacher provides silence, students process and reflect upon the music they've been hearing. These reflections may come in the form of tonal and/or rhythmic utterances or movement, and provide information about where they are in their musical development. They serve as navigational tools, useful for plotting the next course.
As we begin the school year anew, let us not forget the lessons of summertime as we continue musicianship-building in ourselves and our students, for it is in this that we make connections of body, mind and soul as well as ourselves and the world around us. Bon Voyage!
Photos oourtesy of Heather Dahlby of HD Portraits - Marietta. GA