This summer I did something great for myself; I signed up to both present at and enjoy a “Teacher Art Retreat” sponsored by the founder of The Inspired Classroom, Elizabeth Peterson, who also presented at the Connectivity Conference not long ago. The retreat is designed to enable educators to create with colleagues. In addition, aiming to inspire anew by the arts. I just completed Day 2 of 3, and the retreat is fulfilling its mission!
Elizabeth led a session on Active Listening with music, which I found to be really powerful. I can’t remember the last time I listened to a piece of music repeatedly. Trying to examine the music’s structure, or examine what a piece had to say. However, I would bet the same would be true for most students. Students might even resist listening to a piece several times in a row but with guidance they might be surprised what they notice! I call this guided active listening.
Guided Active Listening
The last activity of Elizabeth’s session is a perfect example of how art reaches people wherever they are. It doesn’t matter the age, or amount of life experience. We listened to a Vivaldi piece where a single violin sings against a supporting cast of other stringed instruments. When first played, we all listened for enjoyment. For the first repetition Elizabeth asked us to imagine what that violin was saying.
After we listened we shared our thoughts in small groups. Then we were asked to write a monologue as we listened to the piece through twice more. The level of engagement in the room was so deep and authentic that although we were a group of educators it was easy to imagine how hooked a group of school-aged students could be by this activity.
I myself listened the first time without any particular engagement. While pleasant a piece, it didn’t move me. However, once someone instructed me to imagine what that violin might say, and to write a monologue for the violin, it became a different story. I am a person who is easily moved by all things, especially art, but I was surprised that during the second time I heard the piece I was misty-eyed and by the third time around I was openly crying. It was as though the violin reached into my soul and was tugging, pulling, longing to tell me all it had to say.
Several people shared their monologues with the entire group.
Each monologue was so different but all of them reflected the piece of music and a piece of the writer herself. And therein lies just some of the magic of art. It is open to interpretation, it has the ability to reveal pieces of ourselves to ourselves. And in turn, to others, and be experienced by anyone. Engagement and critical thinking are such big buzzwords and are really important to the educational success of our students. I cannot think of the last time I was that engaged both emotionally and intellectually and judging from what people shared, I don’t think I am alone in that.
Making music is great. Experiencing music is wonderful. Being guided to actively listen to music repeatedly to delve ever deeper into an understanding of the elements of music and the deeper meaning of a piece is engaging and enlightening. Just as we re-read to better understand written text so we can listen repeatedly to better understand a piece of music. So, do not fear to have your students listen to a piece of music more than once. With guidance and intention, it can be a rewarding educational experience and a satisfying personal experience for a student of any age.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.