Making MusicMarch 28, 2014
In one of my first weeks at Caminante, Sister Denisse Pichardo, Caminante’s founder and director and another Caminante staff person, Julissa took me to a remembrance of Colonial history including an outdoor concert at the Fort of River Osama in Santo Domingo. While listening to the symphonic band perform music from “The Nutcracker” and other classical pieces, I mentioned that I played many instruments including the piano and flute and enjoyed singing. Denisse was ecstatic, she had been dreaming of music classes at Caminante! This connection led to months of planning, finding old recorders in packed closets of random supplies, and purchasing equipment.
For decades people have been talking about the positive benefits of music for children’s development, behavioral management, and overall learning skills. PBS reported in a recent study, “a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.” Not only do children learn to solve math problems, but I have seen my students improve in their team working skills and become more willing to help one another learn. Knowing that they will play together lead to a shared interest in success and a desire that all of the class could play perform the tasks at hand.
By the spring, I was in full swing teaching 2 groups of children to play the recorder. At that time I only had a set of 9 recorders, ideally for 8 students and myself… but each class led to more students requiring students to share recorders. After giving away two of my recorders to students who were excelling and begged to practice at home, I was able to purchase 5 more recorders allowing for more students to play!
During the summer and into the fall I focused my attention on one of the music classes, a group of children who live around Caminante’s Capacitation Center, La Casona. While they have grown up knowing Caminante, they were strangely forgotten in terms of programming. We worked with rhythms, sounds, basic music terminology, and learning to read notes. To understand these terms we used our hands, mouths, feet, eyes, ears, and of course, our brains! We would often listen to popular music and identify if the tempo, tone, and style. During a visit from the Disciples of Christ - Oklahoma Region, the music students were given a special gift: a set of colored bells! This added a whole new dimension to our class and a fun new instrument to experiment with. Using the bells we were able to learn about scales and better understood high/low notes.
Music is also a special way to develop literacy skills. To overcome this challenge I used color coded notes to help the students associate the letters, notes on the scale, and the finger charts. I consistently used the same colors and would make large posters of each song with colorful notes. At first the children would have to check each note on their fingering scales by matching the colors, but eventually began reading the music without having to check their fingering scales. The next step was omitting the colors from the music, requiring the students to identify the notes by their placement and not by the color. A few of my students have moved to this level of reading music, while most are still using colored music, I am confident, they too will soon advance to reading the note placements!
In December, 16 students performed Christmas songs at a Christmas Party and a meeting of Non-Government Organization leaders from the Dominican Republic. I know I was more nervous than my students, but Sister Denisse, my students’ parents, and the visitors were very impressed! I will be so sad to say goodbye to my music class this spring. I pray that someone new will enter Caminante’s door someday soon to continue on this new journey of music education!
Ashley Holst serves as a Global Mission Intern with Proyecto Caminante in the Dominican Republic. Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She works with the children in Caminante’s Outreach Ministry.
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