During their twice-a-week, 30-minute music classes two things are for certain: Lower School students are going to make music and they are going to move.
“The whole point of music in Lower School is ‘sing it, dance it, play it.’ It’s about movement and singing and accompanying yourself,” says Alex Edwards, Lower School music teacher at Brookwood for the past 18 years.
Lauren Baker, now in her second year as a Brookwood music teacher, adds, “That’s an Orff motto, and Orff instruments allow all kids to somehow participate in that. It doesn’t matter what their level or capabilities may be. All students are absolutely able to participate in some meaningful way. No one is excluded.”
The Orff approach is a developmental system using rudimentary forms of everyday activity to create music. A child-centered way of learning, the Orff approach incorporates music concepts like rhythm and tempo to encourage a child’s awareness. The department’s ever expanding collection of Orff instruments stands at over 50 pieces.
“The instruments resemble xylophones with all notes labeled ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and so on, and when children tap the instrument with a mallet the notes resonate. It’s not like a piano or another instrument where you need to identify those notes - here you just have to see the letter. And that’s why it’s accessible for young music learners,” Lauren says.
Also central to the Orff approach are authentic folk songs and dances. Says Alex, “We do folk dancing all the way through Lower School. The songs and dances are rooted in tradition and history, and the children love it,” says Alex, who adds that reading skills are also supported in the curriculum, as students decode, read and learn song lyrics.
Third grade is a developmentally appropriate time for students to begin to read music and translate what they see on the page into music. This starts with the recorder. “When students see and play a note on the recorder it actually means something. It's a wonderful introduction to learning how to follow music,” says Alex.
Performing is also a big part of music learning for every Lower School grade. “There’s the PreK play , the K/1 play, the Lower School Play, and the Music, Muffins and Math Morning to name a few. These performances are beautiful examples of many integrated forms of learning. They allow student voice in their creation, support of early literacy skills and become an effective, joyful part of the Lower School curriculum,” says Nancy Evans, Head of Lower School.
“Sharing a performance is a gift. Music is a shared experience and it’s supposed to be listened to,” adds Alex. Lauren adds that performing also ties in closely with the Brookwood mission. "Performing gives students a tangible goal to work toward, and they have to collaborate with each other, to take risks, and to communicate. It also helps students develop public speaking skills and confidence.”
To make the experience of performing more comfortable, Lauren and Alex use “a judgment free approach. We work to take away the stigma of mistakes.”
Whether it’s performing, learning to read music, playing an instrument, or dancing and singing folk songs, both teachers say the real work of the department is to teach children to believe, “they can.”