by Emeric Viani
In January, I invited renowned choral composer, educator, and song leader Nick Page to come to Pike and work with Lower and Middle School students in a series of one-off workshops culminating in an informal concert. For two days I observed him working with my students. He taught them songs he had written or collected, he led improvisation activities, and he even taught them how to conduct each other singing the song “Twinkle Twinkle” – an activity which turned out to be harder than it looked!
There was a funny moment during the Fourth Grade workshop where Nick noticed my stack of ukuleles and asked me, “Do any of your students know how to play ukulele?” Instantly, a sea of hands flew up in the air. And not just a few – every single one.
Much the same way people look at me when I tell them our First Graders learned taiko drumming last spring, Nick was surprised, “Really?” he asked. I nodded. He turned back to the students and asked, “Does anybody know how to play an F major chord?”
And again, all 44 hands flew back up in the air.
Watch some highlights from Nick Page’s residence here
The Lower and Middle School music program at the Pike School is alive, thriving, and in constant motion. From Pre-K to Fifth Grade, students are engaged in the creative process and learn how to be musical in a variety of ways, all of which I hope inspires them to leave space in their lives for music and music-making long after they leave my classroom.
In the flurry of activity that so often happens in my room, I sometimes forget to take a step back and notice what’s happening around me. Here’s a look at what’s going on in Lower and Middle School music right now…
In Lower School, students continue to develop foundational skills in music. Our musicians in Pre-K and Kindergarten are learning to keep a steady beat, sing in the correct vocal register, move expressively to music, and how to play unpitched percussion instruments as well as melodic instruments like the xylophone. First Graders are taking their first steps in music literacy where they are learning how to read and write simple rhythms and melodies – and of course, they will build their taiko drums in just a few weeks! Second Graders are learning about Instrument Families in the Orchestra and will start composing their first rhythm compositions in the weeks ahead.
Our Middle School students are diving into instrument playing and composition. Third Graders are increasing their proficiency on the recorder and have embarked on the first of several composition assignments this spring. Fourth Graders are strumming away on the ukulele and are learning how to play the Twelve Bar Blues: they will learn about the history of the blues, its influence, and write their own blues song with their ukulele groups. Fifth Graders? In February, they worked with Maria Finkelmeier, a professional percussionist from Boston, who leads workshops with electronically triggered buckets. Maria and I facilitated a composition project where the students worked in groups to create an original bucket grooves featuring acoustic and electronic buckets written in grid notation. Check out highlights from our residency with Maria, here.
The Pike Middle School Chorus is off to an amazing start this spring with 49 students signed up from across the division! We’re learning some fun music that we are looking forward to sharing with you at the Middle School concert in April and other events this spring. If you’re ever free on a Monday afternoon between 3-4pm, feel free to stop by and come sing with the kids!
And there’s even more that I didn’t have the chance to mention…
- The Octopi will be performing at the Play On Music Festival at UMass Lowell on April 1
- The Middle School Boomwhacker Club
- Open Drumming Ensemble
It’s always exciting to see kids running into my room at lunch recess so they can pull out some drums (or ukuleles!) and jam with friends, or to see all of those faces at the end of a long school day, ready to sing in chorus.
And it’s equally energizing to see a sea of proud smiles and confidently raised hands saying, “Yes, I can play the ukulele. Yes, I can play an F major chord.”
There’s lots more to come later this spring! Make sure you come to the Middle School concert on Friday April 22 and the Lower School Concert on Friday May 20 to hear all their hard work this year!
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.