“They’re a bit unsettled today” said the class teacher at lunch time. I recognised the concealed meaning in the careful phrasing. Too much wet play, too many windy days.
The classroom was – shall we say “a hive of activity”? Twenty five children energetically stacking tables and arranging chairs in a circle and dishing our recorders and re-arranging chairs and moving tables and practising their recorders…. I watched the mayhem for a few moments, and revised my teaching plan accordingly. Leaving the class teacher and the TA to deal with the maelstrom of children, recorders and furniture, I settled myself in a corner of where the circle would eventually reach. I got out my djembe and laid it on its side next to me, set a xylophone in front of me and rummaged for my recorder. The noise level had reducing to small pockets of “debate”; “She’s sitting here”, “No I am, that’s my place”, ”No it isn’t”, “yes it is”.
I ignored it all, and began to improvise a simple tune, using just a few notes, on my recorder. Silence descended. I put the recorder down, and played some notes on the xylophone. Then I quietly played the djembe, tapping gently with my fingers, and scratching the skin.
The silence became intense. I chose my “story-telling” voice.
“Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a shepherd, looking after his sheep on the hillside. He was all alone, and used to play tunes to keep himself company”. I played some shepherds pipe music.
“His sheep were very happy, grazing on the fresh, green grass.” A bit of xylophone; some slow notes, and then some leaping about notes. “There were lambs, too, leaping about, and playing together.”
“In the woods at the far edge of the grass, there were wolves.” Scraping, tapping, menacing sounds on the djembe. “Hungry wolves, mean wolves. They liked to eat….” I paused. You could have heard a pin drop. “Sheep, and lambs”. Gasps. “The wolves came creeping out of the woods, and then…….”
The children were leaning forward. I sat up, put the instruments down and looked round the class, and used my “normal” voice.
“I don’t know what happened next. That’s for you to work out.”
The children were divided into five groups, give 2 djembes and 1 xylophone (they all had recorders). I explained that in this lesson, they were all to take turns at experimenting with sounds from the recorders, djembes, and xylophones. They didn’t have to choose who would play what, but everyone was to have a go on everything. I handed out paper and pencil to write down ideas, (and also the name of the group and who was in each group!).
Spent the rest of the lesson circling round, listening to their ideas, occasionally making suggestions, and, very rarely resolving minor disputes “he’s not letting us have a go with the xylophone”. Every so often I stopped the class, and invited children, or groups, to share their ideas.
Time passed swiftly. I have sheets of paper covered with notation (letters, rhythms, and even carefully ruled staves), fingering charts, sentences, phrases, graphics, instructions for tempo and dynamics, to use again next week.