"Real art is one of the most powerful forces in the rise of mankind, and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity." "Let us take our children seriously! Everything else follows from this... only the best is good enough for a child."
- Zoltan Kodály (1882‑1967)
"Tell me, I forget, show me, I remember, Involve me, I understand"
- Carl Orff (1895-1982)
Music educator, Dr. John M. Feierabend, has said, "In The Republic, Plato speaks about music as an art form, in that music has the potential to deliver a message 'below the surface.'" I agree, and that is why I do what I do.
As an elementary music teacher, I teach my students based on standards put before me. These national music standards are the wonderful guidelines I use to teach skills and concepts students need to know. Singing alone and with others, performing on an instrument, improvising melodies, composing and arranging, reading and notating music, listening and describing music, evaluating music and music performances, understanding relationships between music and other disciplines, and understanding music as it relates to history and culture is the framework of what I do. My overall emphasis is on developing the aesthetics in the individual. I want my students to get "below the surface."
Learning never stops for me. I continue to read, observe outstanding educators, and get involved in training so I can be the best teacher. I realize that all educators and I will always be learning. Why do we want to learn more? Therefore, we can be the best human beings possible. And what makes humans different from the animals? We are able to think, create, and be sensitive to aesthetics. We are able to see and experience things "below the surface." I have learned that the multiple intelligences are multidimensional and are interdependent, and when one looks deeper into the eight functions of the intelligences, it easy to see that humans are very complex. Each of my students has a musical/rhythmic intelligence, and my job is for that to develop further.
One of the teachers from whom I have learned a great deal is Dr. Feierabend. He states, "most adults should be able to demonstrate basic musical behaviors including comfortable and accurate singing (being tuneful), comfortable and accurate moving (being 'beatful'), and expressive sensitivity when listening and/or responding to music (being 'artful')." I agree. My goal is that when my students reach the age of thirty, they will be able to dance at their wedding, sing a lullaby to their child, and feel moved by an expressive orchestral passage.
To achieve this goal, I have studied and use two main approaches in my classroom. The first is Orff‑Shulwerk, named after Austrian composer and music educator Carl Orff. This process of elementary music education is centered on poems, rhymes, games, songs, dances, the spoken voice, singing, body percussion (clapping, patting) untuned percussion (drums, woodblocks), barred percussion (xylophones, glockenspiels), and recorder with an end result of improvisation, composition and performances. Students are extremely active in this approach. The focus is on the process of the music making rather than the end result. Yes, we do perform what we create, but it is the journey in the creating that is most fulfilling for the students. For example, when they help decide the form, the melodic contour, or whether there will be a section of improvisation, they feel the amazing power of creativity.
The second approach is the Kodály Method. It is named after Zoltan Kodály, who was a prominent Hungarian composer and musician. The method's main focus is singing and musical literacy. Just as we want students to be able to read and write in their native language to communicate, I want my students to be able "communicate musically." True music literacy develops the ability to hear what is seen and see what is heard. The method is based on the "3 P's" where a music literacy concept is prepared, presented, practiced. During the summer of 2005, I took a class with Dr. Feierabend called "Conversational Solfege." In the course, he takes the "3 P's" and extrapolates them into 12 steps. It has four large steps of preparation, rote learning, reading, and writing. I have seen amazing results with my students as they are able to decode rhythms and melodies just by hearing. When they hear a piece of music, I want them to be able to see what they are hearing. It encouraged me when I heard a second grader exclaim, "Mr. Himelick, I can hear the music in my head!"
Since music allows us as humans to "get below the surface," I want my students to share that experience with others. We have concerts at the school for the student body, parents, and the community such as military veterans and local retirement centers. We travel and perform at retirement centers, at the annual local police department memorial service, and at other public venues. We also have opportunities for parents to experience music making just like their children. I call these "informances" instead of performances. We inform the parents of what their children are learning by having them do all the activities of singing, chanting, dancing, moving, and playing along with their son or daughter. It is such a wonderful evening of music making and community. It allows me to share with the parents my passion for what I desire for my students; that "[they] are the music makers, and [they] are the dreamers of dreams. yet [they] are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems." ‑ Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy