Musical Instrument Study

On Friday, March 28, a guest artist visited the elementary classroom. Rene Lopez, an Austin-based percussionist, will be assisting our students as they continue their project of translating expression through various artistic avenues. Rene is currently a student at the University of Texas Butler School of Music majoring in Percussion Studies. Rene has ten years of experience as a classically trained musician, and currently performs with the UT Symphony Orchestra, as well as various ensembles around campus. In addition to his technical studies, he studies music theory and has completed courses in the interpretative meaning of music across different disciplines such as sociology and cognitive science.


The translation project began with the costumes the students created for the Fall Festival, which represented physical composition of planetary bodies, and continued through the Winter Festival when they illustrated the aspects of the four seasons through color, shadow, and sound.


This semester, the students have continued the practice of communicating characteristics across different mediums, including more abstract concepts such as mood and action. They’ve worked closely with our atelieristas in revisiting their music choices for the Fall Festival and representing their visualization using movement, shadow, and color. They have also worked with guest photographer David Wilhelm, as well as in the Math Lab, to explore the concept of symmetry and kinesthetic awareness to “paint” with the movement of LED lights captured by long-exposure photography.


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As we prepare for our yearly self-portrait project, which will serve as a culmination of the translation project, we are equipping our students to represent their individual identities not only through a visual composition but an auditory one as well. On this day, the students worked with Rene to match descriptive qualities with a wide range of sounds he introduced them to working on a snare drum, tambourines, gongs, clavas, bongos, a ratchet, a rain stick, a tempo block, a slide whistle, a triangle, maracas, rocks, a singing bowl, and a flexitone.

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It goes without saying that their compositions were remarkable. The instruments were a new language for most of the children, and their absorption as they moved from instrument to instrument, exploring the structure and variability of their sounds was unwavering. They were called into the recording studio individually, and developed a concept with Ms. Marjon of themselves, their favorite activities, and their emotions. Then, they paired their ideas with selected instruments, and directed a composition performed by themselves and Rene.


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The descriptions they gave covered a wide range of experience. One student described the sadness that sets in when a parent goes away on a trip and the way that emotion gives way to joy when they return. Another student described the frantic enthusiasm of building in Minecraft and having to account for invaders, and the elements. Another student described her persistent excitement for life, which she said she felt even while sleeping. Each one of them created an auditory illustration of their account, carefully choosing the sounds, their pace, and the timing in which they were included in the song.


According to an article by Laura Lewis Brown, a professor of education at St. Lawrence University, for, the benefits of music education are multi-disciplinary. The article quotes the co-founder of an early childhood music development program named Guilmartin: ”A child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles.”


The article also shows that practicing music pushes the brain to work harder, according to the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University. A study jointly performed by Boston College and Harvard Medical School professors indicates that even a few months of music instruction enabled refined auditory discrimination and fine motor skills. It also provides children an opportunity to develop spatial-temporal skills, helping them, “visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.”



We anticipate that the student’s final work will take the shape of a photograph, paired with a piece of music, both carefully directed by their artistic vision and understanding of self. The collection will be a part of our annual school art show, which this year will be held at the Be Human Gallery on April 26th.


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