2nd last day at the Language School

I worked out today that I only have one day left to teach at the Language School this term, and that will be taken up with a performance at Federation Square with the Upper Primary students.

I’m finishing term early because of my overseas travel (less than three weeks to go – yay!) but it has been a patchy term anyway, due to the Hunger and Musicircus  performance week taking up so much time. Then, the week following that one, I called in sick, exhausted and with a cold gearing up to invade my head. The students have therefore only seen me three times (including today) this term.

Well, we had a great day. The projects based on books have been embraced by the students and teachers, and in my absence a lot of work has been done. Here’s a summary:

Middle Primary have memorised their ‘colours’ song. We made this through a very organic and literacy-focused process – in Week 1 we developed some chants by string students’ names together in combinations that made interesting rhythms. We practised saying the phrases rhythmically, then the rhythms evolved into simple melodic phrases. In Week 2, we listed all the different colours we could think of (using those in  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? to get us started), and we compared the syllables counts of the colour words with the names. We then replaced all the names with colours of the same number of syllables, and that is the song the children have memorised.

The other task we are working on is setting the words of the book to music. specifically on the notes C and G. We sing the book, and play the notes, and alter the rhythm according to the syllables of the words we are singing. It’s difficult for the students – but they are responding enthusiastically to the challenge and giving it a lot of concentrated focus and energy. I think it will improve each week, without the teacher needing to get too technical about the musical aspects, if they practise regularly, singing as they play, and clapping the rhythms first to clarify them.

Lower Primary didn’t have such a good day today. They are such an interesting age group, in that they can have a fantastic capacity to do well in music tasks – but sometimes have no focus at all and are pretty much ‘off their heads’ (as their teacher affectionately describes it… the other favoured expression is ‘out of their tree’!). Quite a lot of new students have arrived so there is quite a large proportion of the class that has almost no English. Among the returning students, there are only a couple of really reliable role models.

So it was not our most productive lesson! We worked with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, trying out different repetitive lines with dynamic variations, and singing through our Chorus, which lists the days of the week and the foods eaten by the caterpillar, and includes a strategically-placed clap midway through the line. They were pretty unfocused overall, and in the end their teacher decided we should finish a bit early as what they really needed was to sit down and have their lunch. What with a long weekend (4 days) and whole days without their regular class teacher (2), they were desperate for some routine and clear, simple structure. ‘Retraining’, as their teacher wryly called it.

Upper Primary were the stars today. They showed me all the work they have done on the warm-up song I taught them in Week 1 (Soon I will be done-a with the troubles of the world) – we invented actions for the chorus and verses, and they have spent the last few weeks practising these. They love it – both the song and their dance! It is great to watch, and to see their enthusiasm, and I found my energy returning almost immediately as the lesson got started. I immediately decided that we would perform this song and dance for the concert at Federation Square so we rehearsed it in detail for 30 minutes.

Next, we worked on their book-music (Whoever you Are, by Mem Fox). In the last lesson, different individuals had improvised musical phrases using text from the book and Mel (our intern) had transcribed all their ideas. Coming to the lesson today, I had compiled their different musical phrases into a song – a verse and chorus that could be sung at the same time to create a simple, effective harmony.

I haven’t done much part-singing with this class but we were on a roll! so I gave it a try and it worked. Worked a treat, in fact. By now my energy was really buoyed up, so we tried out my next idea, which was a 2-part chant using the ‘differences’ text from the book (it starts, Their skin may be different from yours, their homes may be different from yours…etc). This was also successful, and performed quickly by the group.

So really, they were a bit of  Dream Team today. In just one lesson, we had prepared a song-and–dance number, and some original music in 2 parts. We ran through it a few times, and their teacher recorded it on a tape recorder so that they could listen through the week. Next time I see them will be the day we go to Federation Square. It isn’t a formal performance – more of a sharing of work-in-progress for children from the different Language Schools that the Song Room works with. I felt very proud of the group today. I think they felt pleased with themselves too.

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