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Music brings words to life

Unique program helps kids focus on literacy skills

Posted: April 13, 2009 1:42 a.m.
Updated: April 13, 2009 9:00 a.m.

Fifth-grader Daniel Kim plays the skin drum during the final performance of the school's multi-week arts and literacy program called Arts for Learning Lessons at Leona Cox Community School on March 3.

 
A colorful and surprising array of sounds from cans, pipes and jugs rang out Friday at Leona Cox Community School as students told a story through music during two "Music Brings Words Alive" performances.

The unusual musical experiment ended an arts and literacy program called, "Young Audiences Arts for Learning," which started in January and which taught students to transform ideas from a story into musical sounds.

"We're trying to use the arts to help kids focus better on literacy skills," Young Audiences Director Larry Stein said. "This was the capper of a multi-component program to help kids understand literature."

The performances included professional demonstrations of sound effects, mood tones and rhythmic phrases that accompanied a poem and ended with a student ensemble.

Two fifth-grade classes presented music they created for a hypothetical movie trailer called, "The Amazing Vibrobots."

"They were broken into five or six groups and they all played different instruments," Principal Sandra Smith said. "They selected a conductor for each group and they created music that relates to a story."

The students demonstrated their interpretation of "The Amazing Vibrobots" by intertwining sounds that represented each character in the story with the trailer's over-arching melody.

"I was a conductor of the metal-objects group," fifth-grader Nathan Jones said. "We represented the evil character. We had the water gong, weights, drumsticks that we could hit, and cans and pipes."

Fifth-grader Lauren Purzak helped her group create music to represent "Harmony-Tono Girl."

"I was the conductor and I made up all the music," she said. "We had to use a combination of notes to figure out a way to do character motifs for our character. We played the slide whistles, the bottles and shook a sign that made a hypnotizing noise."

Each student in Purzak's group had a part in making the music, she said.

"Everyone took a few words (of the trailer) to play their instrument during and we combined them together and made one sound," Purzak said. "My favorite part was making up music on the spot."

Fifth-grader Jeremy Anunwah played the water gong in the metal-objects group.

He hit the gong with a stick to make a sound, he said.

"It is high if you take it out of water and it's low when you drop it back into the water," Anunwah said. "I learned that you can make a sound effect with pretty much anything."

Adding music to a story helps students better understand the story's meaning and emphasis, Smith said.

Some students might not understand something that was read to them or something they read themselves, but sounds help them internalize a story and remember it, she said.

"I hope that they will be able to use this strategy as they continue their education," she said.

Stein agreed.

"We want to make reading fun and to get students to think about different ways to use music to connect with words and imagine feelings, the way movies in the theater do," he said. "It's a way to get kids focused on the literacy skills that many of them have trouble with."

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