The actual beginning of any process is mysterious. It arises out of causes which had their own beginnings. Some of those previous causes are intentional – completed actions which gave rise to coherent choices. Each year at this Montessori School much effort is given to connect the students to their environment. This early time the school year, gives me a rare chance to reflect and observe the children as they have grown or changed, with an eye towards beginning from the intentional causes, and filtering out the noise of accidental causes.
Interestingly, Upper El and Lower El began at polar opposite approaches to the music work in their first lesson of the year. One took the long view, the other, the most elemental detail.
Upper El began with the instruction to ponder, or hold, the question “What is Music?” as we surveyed a music timeline. This exercise began with a listening to indigenous music of Australian Aboriginal music, ancient music, outdoors, connected to nature, where even the bird sounds can be heard to be part of the music, and moved indoors through the early church music which flows along as a recorded history roughly in step with the development of European civilization.
There was one germane moment in this presentation which I believe was a new impression for all the Upper El Students. We were listening to Modern Music with this piece:
Modern Music can be said to parallel the moment where our cultures had gained such an interwoven state that the old notion of order, based on primarily on the hierarchy of the church, was challenged. It is well possible, though not entirely pleasant for some people, to experience in this music the quality of the lack of a center that the modern world necessitates. (Thankfully, Bartok, who was very much interested in how different cultures existed, is in fact meticulously creating a new model of order.) This new world also found a voice in the masters of Jazz, and we listened in class to an approach to the same impressions in this piece, where elaboration and difference are openly stated, explored and continuously reconciled:
It is easy to see that this future generation is now confronted with global awareness in a exponential ways, especially in light of the internet. In ways that the Upper El students are surprisingly cognizant of. Certainly, wisdoms and idiocies of all cultures are there for the taking.
We followed the timeline into pop and the present day and ended back where we began on the Austalian continent, with one non-native, seventeen year old young woman’s best guess of an answer to the question, “What is Music?”
In Lower El we began with lesson I have proclaimed as: The Most Important Music Exercise There Is.
Sometimes I will have to correct the kids when I ask them,”how important is it?”, and they say,”Very Important”.
“It is the Most Important Exercise”
It has 5 steps.
1. Play a note.
2. Hear, with concentration, the entire sound of the note.
3. Stop the note.
4. Recreate the sound of the note, exactly as you heard it, in your mind.
5. Sing the note.
It seems simple, but there are some tricky aspects if you try to practice it. Sometimes what is tricky is to give each step its moment. Sometimes what is tricky is the concentration steps 2 and 4 take. We use the Montessori Bells for it in the class, but I am very clear you can do this with any instrument. I recommend readers of this writing to try it. What is remarkable is that nearly everything that one has to confront in musicianship is contained or built upon the experiences of these 5 steps. Lower El is good age to break this down and go slow, stumble a little, and try to see why you did.
Can Lower El kids hit the pitch in step 5? The goal here is not success in hitting pitch, it is to explore experiences. It is to try over and over, each time trying your best. We spent about 10 minutes talking about exactly this point in all our first classes, deprogramming the notion of failure. “If your goal is to grow, to become more than you are, it is as awesome to fail as it is to succeed – if you are trying your best.” In truth if a student is willing to try to sing and sing “wrong” pitches for a while placement is quite easy to correct.