Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Not to Arrange

I had a great idea to make my students in third and fourth grade come up with their own arrangement for Aura Lee to perform at the Spring Concert. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. It meets the new standards for composing and it gives the students a project to work on as a class. There is probably a good way to go about planning a series of lessons that culminate in a good arrangement that is entirely student-made, but I definitely found the way NOT to present this project:

My students were doing a great job with singing Aura Lee and playing it on their recorder as well. However, a small group of students were not successful at playing on the recorder, including one student with disabilities. I didn't want to single anybody out on the "triangle part" (a part that I would have created to be as simple as possible so that students who couldn't play the recorder could still be successful), and I wanted to challenge the students and meet the new standards by allowing them to come up with their own arrangement. So far, this wasn't a bad idea.

When it came to creating new parts for the song, I should have followed the Orff Method more closely - that is, I should have had the students sing the song together and come up with an ostinato pattern using body percussion only. Then, after the students were able to perform the ostinato and sing successfully, I should have added one instrument in place of the body percussion. This would have been enough to satisfy both the challenge and the standards, or even a second ostinato and instrument could have been added.

Instead of following a logical plan like that, I chose a more chaotic route: I brought out all of the instruments at once, allowed students to choose any instrument that they wanted, and then I played Aura Lee on the piano and asked the students to improvise an accompaniment on their instrument. Now, the result was obviously a chaotic mess. I did accomplish one objective of getting students to improvise. Actually, accomplish is the wrong word. After the first chaotic attempt, the new task was to try and make the chaotic mess into an acceptable accompaniment, which so far has been unsuccessful. I feel bad having to tell certain students, "No, your part doesn't fit, sorry." It's just been a backwards process from the beginning.

How do I fix this mess before the concert in two weeks? I don't think that it would hurt to go back to the beginning and spend part of a period starting from scratch. I mean, have the students sing the song and create a body percussion ostinato, then add some drums and tambourines to it. I also don't think it would hurt to keep the triangle part that the students already worked on. Everything else, however, must go. I also think that the song form needs to be one of the "compositional parameters" that I assign, rather than have the students try to figure it out. I guess we'll try it on Thursday and see how it goes.

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