The music program at North Fitzroy is a vibrant, stimulating program that embraces composition, creativity, participation, technology, and fun. The main emphasis behind almost all our work is to empower the students to believe that their compositions are worthwhile. Demystifying the role of the composer and valuing children’s composition drives much of the thinking behind our program.
If our music department can do this, it will create a lifelong love of music in children. Rather than just being observers of music, these children will go on to be participants and, most importantly, creators.
Every child gets to participate in a generalist music class once a week. In this class, the core understanding of composition is taught to the child. We try to cover a vast range of concepts and presentation styles to allow for as many different learning styles as possible. These include sound sculptures, movie soundtracks, abstract compositions, loops-based composition, recording techniques, traditional notation, rap, and hip hop, and rock music. By teaching through composition, one can teach the basic concepts such as pitch, rhythm texture, and melody in a way that has personal relevance for the students and, therefore, will remain with them for their life.
Other projects include instrument making, singing, and African drumming.
Almost every class starts with a listening session where the children listen to various music and are encouraged to make comments on the compositional techniques and a personal judgment on whether they like it and why. Many of these “listening” exercises are now done using DVDs and a data projector giving children a more significant visual awareness of the music. On top of the generalist, lesson children are encouraged to participate in the ensembles that we provide. We run a mixed percussion ensemble for each year level. The ensemble comprises a variety of melodic and percussive instruments, including xylophone, glockenspiel, djembe drums, marimbas, and hand percussion. Learning by using your ears, not your eyes, is central to our pedagogy of small ensemble work. For example, when we learn a new piece, each part is sung to the whole group. A piece might have five different parts, ranging from bass, middle, high melody lines, and a rhythm section. The entire group would then sing each part before focusing on their individual parts. This provides context and trains the ear to hear things as a whole.
To model our composition first approach, ensemble leaders initially compose all the music for the group before quickly handing that responsibility to the students. Improvisation in this ensemble is encouraged.
We also run a couple of rock ensembles and a choir. Many opportunities are provided for the ensembles to perform within the school and outside the school. In addition, strong links have been made with the local high school and region where groups have been invited to our school for mutual concerts, and we have taken groups to other schools and community events. Finally, we also run an EYT (extend your talents) program for children who show a very keen interest and ability. In this program, they form their own groups to perform, record, and look at other areas of the music industry, such as advertising and management. They can also make their own short movies and animations using programs such as iMovie and iStopmotion. In this creation process, they are required to score all the music for their movies and animations.
We believe our program is innovative in several areas. Our core philosophy of valuing the idea of students as producers rather than just receivers of information is what drives all our innovation. We have fully embraced technology as not only an important learning tool, but we see it as merely being another valuable platform to allow for meaningful learning. A lot of our teaching revolves around understanding the role of music in various situations, but to fully learn, these children need to create those situations. With this in mind, the children work on a lot of multimedia projects such as filmmaking, animations, the creation of radio shows, and podcasting. Through programs such as radio waves, we have been able to podcast a lot of the children’s work on the internet, thus forming valuable relationships with other schools and community groups throughout the world. By doing this, we allow the children to produce work that has wings outside of the classroom. No longer are they producing work for merely one person, the teacher; they are now producing it for vast communities found and created by the internet. Technology is intricately woven into all aspects of children’s lives and therefore should be woven into all aspects of their school life. All of the children’s work is recorded and given back to them in the form of digital portfolios or uploaded onto the internet. This recording process is also handed over to the students in many instances.
However, one of our major innovations is to integrate the music program into the classroom program. If you can do this, you are mitigating against the risk of your music program being marginalized, a program that falls into line well behind literacy and numeracy. Instead, it becomes valued as a nessasary aid to those things. We have done this by pushing the value of multimedia projects because they work with visual literacy. We have run many PDs teaching the classroom teachers various music programs such as Garageband, iMovie, etc. By doing this, the fear of music has been removed from the teachers, and they are confident to allow the students to integrate music into many of their projects. We have encouraged teachers’ ideas and tried to provide the infrastructure for them to do this. All classrooms have five computers in them, and we have a Mac lab of 20 Computers and a small recording studio.
The impact we have is an exciting one. On a very grassroots level, many of our students go into high school with the innate belief that they are creators and their creations are valuable. They are not content to merely play a role but want to have very personal involvement in creating that role. Many of our rock bands, formed when the children were only ten, have maintained and are now gigging professionally. We have developed significant relationships with local community groups such as the Old Colnialist home for the elderly and the Croxton Special School.
Finally, a special project is being run with the Croxton Special School where 10 of our students are working with 10 of their students every week for a term playing music and ultimately leading to a performance. The students have also chosen to film and edit the process and final performance. That will be presented as a DVD ready for purchase by the broader school communities.