By Mark Saleski
She put on Stevie Wonder's Living For The City" and then asked us to call out the instruments that we heard. I don't really remember how we all did, but that moment has always stayed with me. An actual music class in middle school. It wasn't just about clefs and notes and all of that either. It was about actual music. Music that was current, vibrant, and important.
Oh, how things have changed. Music and art classes have been dropped from many schools as budget woes have rendered such learning frivolous." So it's nice to see Oran Etkin and his recently-opened Timbalooloo school take such an interesting approach to music education. Beginning with the youngest age group (0-2 years) all the way up to 10 years, the children are taught not only musical concepts (rhythms, melody) but are also exposed to information about famous musicians, the history and social context of music, and even more advanced idea like the difference between a chord and a melody.
All of this is taught in a fun, involving environment with plenty of songs, stories, and games. A great example of the Timbaloo approach can be found on the Creole song Eh La Bas." Etkin first tells the story of King Louis XIV, Louisiana, and why French is spoken there. As Etkin puts it, the story provides the historical context while giving the children a personal story, helping them connect to the song.
The music on Wake Up Clarinet ranges from the beginner" level High Low," introducing the concept of pitchto melody-by-way-of-speech jazz of All I Really Want To Do Is Dance," to the closing Jammin' On High Low," during which all of the instruments demonstrate their talent for high low." Along the way, we also get to wake up the clarinet in the morning (the title track), and make friend with her.
Etkin's group brings a lot of firepower to this light-hearted recording, with his foil Carenee Wade on vocals, Jason Marsalis (drums), Fabian Almazon (piano), Garth Stevenson (bass), and Curtis Fowlkes on the trombone. The playing is serious enough to convey the lesson without being too stiff. Yes, their swampy version of Mary Had A Little Lamb" is a load of fun, for both the kids and the adults!
I have a lot of respect for what Etkin is trying to do here. Getting kids more involved with music? It's a noble exercise. Can you imagine a seven year old knowing how to play a tune on the glockenspiel and knowing who Duke Ellington is? Or what the Samba is? Some may consider this knowledge to be frivolous, but the fact that the child is receptive to all of this can only help when it comes time learn other things. After all, it's not just about clefs and notes.
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