Don't you love when you catch yourself in one of those moments?
When you're a kid, these instances seem to be endless. Everything is so new and exciting and magical and well...meaningful. Children become engrossed in everything they do, whether it be playing soccer at the park or learning how to play a new instrument, so much so that their passion and enthusiasm becomes beautifully contagious.
Even though I don't have children of my own (yet), I've spent a lot of time mentoring kids in youth groups and working with students within the public school system, so I've been lucky enough to share some memorable experiences with them. One of my favourite moments was when I had the opportunity of teaching a group of grade 2s a Music unit on percussion instruments. And believe me, it was just as fun as it sounds...
I taught the Music class at an inner-city school in Victoria. Since 70% of the demographic consisted of Aboriginal children, the school had a number of cultural revitalization programs such as a Coast Salish Studies class, First Nations' drumming groups, and a number of social supports in place to ensure the well being of these students. With the dark leagacy of Canada's residential school system marring the lives of many of these students' parents, such measures were integral in providing meaningful education for this new generation of Aborginal youth.
So with all of this in mind, it only made sense that I geared my unit plans towards a First Nations theme.
The beautiful thing about Aboriginal music is that there is such a strong spiritual component to many of the songs. Since many of these nations depend on storytelling to carry on their ancestral legacies, family songs are treated like sacred scrolls that are passed down through the generations. I was also in luck because First Nations music just happens to be very percussion-oriented.
Since my students were very young, I planned my lessons with a very simple progression:
- Lesson 1: The Beat
- Lesson 2: Introduce Percussion Instruments
- Lesson 3: Rhythm
- Lesson 4: Dynamics
- Lesson 5: Combine the Beat, Rhythm, Dynamics
- Lesson 6: Performance
Throughout this whole process, I taught my students only one song called "Gitsigakomim" (pron: git-see-ga-ko-meem), a lovely Cree melody which means honour/love thy mother. Again, this was to keep things simple. Over time, they would layer each of the components learned above, using their percussion instruments.
When I first taught the students the song (sans the instruments), I was almost moved to tears. "Gitsigakomim" carries a very simple yet powerful melody consisting of 1 verse and 1 chorus that are repeated throughout the song. So there I was, standing in the middle of this circle of 8 year-olds, as 30 of these little voices joined in unison to fill the classroom with this melodic chant:
"Gitsigakomim/ He-ey Ya/ Gitsigakomim/ He-ey Ya/ Gitsigakomim/ He-ey Ya/ Git-si-ga-ko-mim/Hey ya, he-ey ya/ Hey ya, he-ey ya..."
And once I started introducing the instruments, I knew these kids were naturals. Their impressive skill level actually caught me off guard since I was able to teach Lessons #2-4 in just two lessons. A pretty crazy feat when you consider the logistics--30 students, 30 sets of very noisy percussion instruments, and 8 year-old attention spans--need I say more? But somehow we just plowed on through since the kids loved to sing, and play the instruments, and hear the fruits of their labour. It was so gratifying for me because I could tell they were really very passionate about making music.
During their final lesson, the students combined all of the elements they had learned into a single performance. As their teacher, aides, principal, and vice principal came together as the audience, the students strutted their musical stuff...
>enter triangles: TING///TING///TING///TING
>>enter hand drums: BOOM/ BOOM/ BOOM/ BOOM
>>>enter rhythm sticks: ti-ti/ ti-ti/ ti-ti/ ti-ti
>>>>enter tambourines: TA-ti-ti-ti / TA-ti-ti-ti/ TA-ti-ti-ti/ TA-ti-ti-ti
>>>>>start singing "Gitsigakomim"
Smiling happy faces sang their little hearts out during that performance. Our voices rose together in that room to achieve that same euphoric energy one feels when watching your favourite band play at an outdoor ampitheatre. Except this time, the kids were the band and the venue was the classroom, where we were sharing our special moment together...