After leading them through their latest chicken-themed song, music teacher yells out “Noodle!,” setting her kindergarten class loose for a few precious seconds to play and fiddle with their instruments with joyous abandon.
For many people, memories of music class in elementary school include mostly the sounds of off-tune recorders, reluctant singing and, if you were lucky, a turn at the teacher’s piano. For the young students at Hatch Elementary School, however, music class means a fully orchestrated 30 to 45 minutes of singing, keeping time and switching between xylophones, flutophones and African drums.
“This is the only public school I’m aware of on this coast that has a full music program for kindergarten through fifth grade,” Rea explained, crediting Hatch’s PTO for its full funding of the program since 1995.
According to Rea, Hatch PTO members have helped fundraise over the years to keep music, as well as art, physical education and library programs, alive at the school.
“We’re just so lucky here that the parents have such a commitment to music and art,” Rea said. “They see their value as core parts of the curriculum.”
After rounding the classroom twice during an opening band march, Rea’s Monday morning kindergarten class found spots at wooden xylophones and African drums almost as big as they were. Rea led the children though the morning’s song, having them play simple notes while singing, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?”
“We do a lot of songs about chickens,” Rea laughed after the lesson.
Rather than simply playing through the song a few times for practice, Rea, who teaches kindergarten through third grade, had the young students switch instruments halfway through, giving them multi-instrument experience even in kindergarten. Later in the session, she had them follow along as she changed the pace and volume of the lyrics as she sang.
Rea explained that Hatch’s music program follows an Orff philosophy, teaching kids music from a holistic approach. “Kids should be able to sing, move and accompany themselves,” she said of the training the Orff method provides. Herself an Orff certified instructor who also teaches at a private music school, Rea said that the instruments the students were using were specially designed for kids, starting out simple and then advancing to match children’s level of comfort and expertise as they progress.
After the kindergarteners cleared out, Rea’s third grade session marched in, also switching off between drums and xylophones, but this time incorporating more percussion and timing instruments as well.
While some students played harmony, Rea had a rotating group play a wooden block, maraca and vibraslap, paying special attention to each beat, as each instrument came in at different points in the song.
She explained that each class varies from the rest, and that the idea for having students switch instruments and keep time for themselves, all while singing, embodies the Orff philosophy of full integration into the music.
“It’s very creative,” she said. “They are learning about rhythm, timing, when to pass the instrument – they don’t realize how much math they are doing. That stuff the third graders are learning is pretty sophisticated.”
Rea and fourth and fifth grade music specialist Marty Hoffman help the students see their own progression through advancement recognition. One way Rea’s third graders see their own achievement is through flutophone and recorder “karate.” Each time a student masters a new song, Rea explained, he or she gets a new colored “belt” (ribbon) to tie to his or her instrument. After receiving a black belt for the flutophone, the student then moves on to a standard recorder.
Rea’s Monday morning third grade class expressed excitement at being able to see their own successes in music. “My favorite part [of class] is getting new ribbons on the flutophone,” said one third grader.
They also said that they enjoy the variety of instruments available on a daily basis, citing favorites like the vibraslap, flutophone and ever-popular temple box.
“I like the temple box because it sounds like lot of horses running,” third grader Mia Griffiths said.
Rea said that watching her students grow, enjoy themselves and excel in music is one of her favorite parts about working with the youngsters.
“You’ll see kids who may not shine in other parts of school, but they get to just shine here,” she said with a smile. “I want them all to be able to do this.”