February 6, 2020 | #FliptheScript
Flip the Script – Music as Formation
We begin the lunch periods every day by singing the Doxology. As the music teacher, lunch duty can be quite meaningful for me as a large group of our older students sing that first line: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…” starting in unison, everyone singing the same note, and then breaking into 2-, and then 3-part harmony without prompting. While I love hearing the melody of the “Old Hundredth,” there is something especially beautiful about adding harmony, and all of the dissonance and resolution that comes with it. Are our students more musically talented than other students? No, but they have been given the tools and formation to train their ears and their voices for as long as they have been in school here.
At PCS, we’ve flipped the script in the way we approach so-called “Specials” classes. Oftentimes, music class is viewed as an educational “add-on” or a break from the rigor of normal classroom activities. And music curriculum can often reflect that mindset, tending more towards low-level entertainment of students rather than the continued development of their minds, bodies, and souls.
Instead of singing only silly songs to pass the time, we use the Kodály method of music education as a guide, taking on folk tunes, hymns, and classic works to help reinforce musical concepts. From the first moment in class when I take attendance, I sing the students’ names and they are taught to echo back, “I’m here, I’m here,” with proper pitch, rhythm, and tone.
This seems tedious at first, especially for students who have “never really been singers.” I often find myself giving the same students gentle corrections, week after week: “You’re so close, just a bit higher… Use your strong singing voice, not your silly voice… That’s it! Did you hear that?” By the time we get to mid-year, those corrections are nearly forgotten, as every student in the room is able to hear and sing the correct pitches back on the first try.
As the years progress, students slowly build their repertoire of musical concepts, learning to read, write, and perform music in different forms. When students enter fourth grade, we begin to check their vocal range once or twice a year, and we can celebrate and support changing, maturing voices by giving those students lower pitches to sing. Students therefore learn to make music both individually, discovering their own natural voices and talents, and as a part of a group, learning to listen and blend.
All of this hard work is on display at gatherings like our annual Christmas Program. If you happen to be in attendance, you won’t hear students singing “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman.” You’ll hear them singing songs like “Mary’s Little Boy Child,” “Coventry Carol,” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – all in harmony.
So, why is this important? Why do we prioritize music as a core part of a classical Christian education? I certainly don’t expect every one of my students to become professional musicians. But, it is my hope that my students will take their study of music seriously, as “The theory of music is a penetration of the very heart of providence’s ordering of things. It is not a matter of cheerful entertainment or superficial consolation for sad moods, but a central clue to the interpretation of the hidden harmony of God and nature in which the only discordant element is evil in the heart of man.” Through their music education, I expect my students to learn that music is not just a form of personal expression but a way to discover the beautiful ordering of God’s world. I expect them to be able to recognize true beauty and to strive towards that beauty with all of their minds and bodies in every part of their life. I want them to be people who will not accept dissonance, but will dig into it and seek resolution. And so we sing together every day before lunch, in harmony, as a joyful outworking of something we are slowly uncovering: “the hidden harmony of God and nature.”