Teaching Music Outside!!

I’ve been making a lot more posts over on my other website lately which is about navigating music learning during this time. At first, we were teaching online, which is completely covered in several sections of the website, starting in March 2020.

The other section that is getting so much more attention since fall of 2020 is:
TEACHING MUSIC OUTSIDE!! It’s been so exciting and transformational for how I teach! I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and never thought I would teach music the way I am this year. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the exciting shift of possibilities, connections and creativity that are occurring with students learning outside, especially when you compare the last post I made on this page just before this one, and the energy and joy in pretty much every post when I speak of teaching outside! It just overflows with potential and fun and spontaneity!

Go check out the TEACHING MUSIC OUTSIDE blog:

You can read press about our outdoor learning, for which people were very interested in our tents, but the learning style I have changed to this year is discussed somewhat as well! Check out “A Tent Situation” by Lindsey Enns for the Manitoba Teacher’s Society magazine:


Thank you to LRSD Trustee, Sandy Nemeth, who wrote this wonderful article for which I was honoured to be interviewed about the outdoor music learning at our school!

I was honoured to be interviewed for Disconnect: The Outdoor Education Podcast. It’s so wonderful to chat with other educators who love the outdoors and what we can learn from it! Go listen to all those podcasts as they are fascinating!
Check it out here:

So thrilled to have an article in Green Teacher magazine for their summer issue!


I am also one of the creators and moderators of the Outdoor Education Manitoba group on Facebook, for Manitoba teachers, which has been very inspiring!

Go check out the TEACHING MUSIC OUTSIDE blog:

I was honoured to be included in the Louis Riel School Division Report to the Community for 2020-2021:

Louis Riel School Division Annual Report to the Community 2020-2021 “Bringing the Classroom Outside”, page 46-47, including our school!


Education Lessons Learned Through Karate Class

I took karate for a number of years, until brown belt, which is basically just before black belt, until persistent physical problems I was experiencing through this art made it difficult for me to continue. I am grateful for this time as I learned a lot of important lessons about learning and education.

First, with learning: Karate did not come easily for me at all. I am quite familiar with kinaesthetic intelligence as I danced my whole life, but for some reason that experience did not connect with learning a martial art at all. It was fascinating to me that I could learn each block, punch and kick individually, but putting them together into different kata (forms, very similar to the idea of a dance routine) came extremely slowly. This immediately made me think of students who learn fingerings for individual notes on a recorder, or guitar, or ukulele chords; but switching between them in various different ways for songs could be very difficult for some. I had often puzzled in my own mind, as I tried to figure out how to help these students, how could they find the various songs so difficult when they are only playing 3-4 different notes… well, now I could see it from the perspective of a new learner, and I now knew from experience that just because one learns each note or each block/punch/kick, doesn’t mean songs or kata can come easily…. but they do come. I was in karate for 6 years and it took a long time to learn the kata for each belt. I was often slower than so many other students. But – slow or not – I did eventually learn. Were it not for the physical challenge of what seemed like a chronic injury only when I’d be taking classes, it could be that I’d have the 1st black belt by now. It did not matter to me that others moved ahead in shorter time, because the journey was mine to go at my own learning pace. And my sensei (second picture below) was so incredibly encouraging, always relating how hard it was for him to learn as well, so I always felt comfortable learning at my own pace and being encouraged that the learning would eventually happen… He was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. This brings me to one of my main points: martial arts allow students to learn at their own pace, without concern for achieving certain goals by a certain time. LIGHTBULB! Education systems (schools) could take huge lessons from martial arts classes with this!

In a karate class, there are a range of ages and belt levels, and age and belt level are not connected… There can even be children in the same class as adults, but quite often they are divided up into children and adult classes… However, even though there are children and adult classes, there are still the same belt levels which indicate achieving a certain level of skills, and these levels and skills acquired aren’t different between children and adults. So, a child can be several belts ahead of many adults in the school, or children older than them. No one questions this. No one should feel uncomfortable about this. And this is one area where it is great: skill levels are not tied to certain ages at all. In school systems, we put all children of the same age in the same class… and they are expected to learn at the same pace. Which brings me to another element of my karate class:

Just because several students started on the same day doesn’t mean they will move ahead through belts at the same pace. Again, no one questions this; it’s just natural that one learns at one’s own pace, regardless of how much quicker or slower others learn skills. In my time in karate there were many people who started years after me that move belts ahead of me or even got there blackbelt. No one is concerned about this, it’s just how the system works. It just makes so much sense, and really develops confidence because you don’t feel like you have to get anything done with in a specific time… You just know that it will happen when it happens, but that it will happen in a way that is natural and the right speed for YOU. We have this disconnect in the school system where we try to talk about having a growth mindset and foster the belief that we can all learn and grow – but it is stifled with the expectation that it HAS to happen within a very structured time period… One must achieve all of the items of, say, grade 9, within 190 days, or you stay in grade 9. One must learn an entire math unit within – let’s say – a 3 week period and everyone, whether they feel ready or not, will be tested on a specific date. In comparison, this doesn’t foster a growth mindset. It makes one feel like the 3 week period is how long it should take EVERYONE, and therefore the students who don’t feel ready could completely reasonably feel like they “can’t learn math”. What if they were tested when they were ready, like with karate?

This was how it was determined we were ready to move to the next belt level: the sensei would always be watching, observing and helping with learning the various skills necessary for the upcoming belt level. At a non-specific time, all of the sudden, one day the sensei would announce at the end of a class the names of certain students who would be requested to come to an upcoming grading at the dojo. It wouldn’t be everyone; just certain students. So you may be a yellow belt along with many other yellow belts who train at the same time every week, but they may be asked and you are not. So – then that just means you have more to learn. Simple as that. You may be asked in a few months. Or not. It doesn’t matter because you just keep learning. Sometimes I wouldn’t feel ready when I was asked to grade. The sensei would talk about this and tell us that he had been watching for many months and based on his observations and expertise, he makes these decisions. One doesn’t question the sensei. It is nice to see this confidence and respect for the sensei’s skill in making these assessments and decisions.

At the grading, it would be explained that it is really a celebration of what he already knows you can do, which is why you were picked to grade that day. This puts one at ease as well. Instead of a test in school that everyone has to take at the same time on the same day whether they feel ready or not, one can feel quite anxious and have a huge lack of confidence which can, in fact, cause students to do poorly because they are so nervous that they are unable to think clearly. At a karate grading these anxieties are removed because you are told you are there because the sensei already knows you are ready due to much observation and practice before the grading. He has already seen that you have the necessary skills. it’s really a joyous event to share what you know. This is seen sometimes at celebration of learning events at schools, or portfolio nights, to an extent, but even then everyone is there regardless if one is sure that they all learned the information. There is still an expectation that people of the same age should learn at the same rate.

Within a regular martial arts class, students are divided up into belt levels and work together on different kata, sometimes with a higher belt teaching, or sometimes the same belt level but perhaps with more experience… It’s lovely to see all the peer teaching, and differentiated learning.

It would be so great to take some of these lessons of how to set up learning systems from martial arts classes.

I love that I found this Ted Talk with Sal Khan, who created Khan Academy, talking about the ideas above, even specifying martial arts:

Learning in Our Music Room Looks Like…

In Manitoba, we are blessed with rich, and thorough arts curricula (often referred to as standards elsewhere) that were designed with a lot of thought and love by amazing arts teachers and consultants.  They are based on a butterfly, with the idea that any area (or wing) of the curriculum needs to be used simultaneously with all the other wings:

Although each essential learning area presents a distinct set of learning outcomes, their achievement is not intended to be realized in isolation. Just as real wings work synchronously with each other, the essential learning areas are intended to function in an integrated way. Rich thematic music-making experiences will invariably integrate learning outcomes from two, three, or all four essential learning areas.

When I craft my lessons and projects for classes, I have these 4 wings in mind, with the essential learning areas and specific learning areas basically memorized, and I imagine ways to branch out the lessons and projects into each area so that students are experiencing elements such as creativity, context, self-reflection and musical language throughout.  Often I also am weaving other curricula (again, what we call ‘curricula’ are often referred to as ‘standards’ elsewhere) from other subject areas in a way that is inseparable, but even these other curricula are part of the Manitoba Music Curriculum, in the Creative Expression wing:

(The student will) experiment with music to communicate ideas derived from a variety of stimuli (e.g., visual stimuli such as artworks or an aquarium; a remembered or an imaginary experience; a poem or a story; music-listening experiences; themes or concepts from other subject areas) – K-2 M-C1.3

I am so happy to be sharing my classroom with a student teacher in a few weeks!  I wanted to share some lessons and some composing projects which we have been doing up until this point, so she can see what types of things they have learned, could expand upon etc.

While I was doing this, I started thinking it could be a blog post, too, to share an example of what happens in each grade in my music room!

All students – Percussion

Here are some examples of activities that I would do with all students:


I was blessed with meeting the amazing Mary Knysh at the San Diego AOSA Conference in 2015, where I learned some amazing drumming for brain actvities and for community.  It was just exhilirating to connect with dozens of people through improvisational drumming, rhythms and singing together.

Because of this, all students started with this drum experience that I learned from her.  It is amazing to be able to have these learning opportunities for professional development.  It is great, as a teacher, to see current practices from around the world, using the latest philosophies and understandings of how learning works, what works best and what we can do that would have an impact on our students.  Teachers, by our very nature, love learning, and are models of life long learning.  The experience of attending that conference was transformational in each session I took, and I’m not even beginning to cover all the things I learned from that conference here. I learned from music educators from around the world in ways that would not be possible if I had not attended.  I teach using the Orff approach to music education, for the most part, and in Orff, one learns by actively DOING music: creating, participating, dancing… it is not congruent to learning from a book.

So as I said, we started the year with a community building exercise, that immediately gets us exercising our brains; making connections, problem solving, using critical thinking skills, learning, re-learning, actively listening… all of this happens through Mary Knysh’s approach because the rhythms are changing constantly and one has to respond to them, with new creative responses that use only rhythms, so students have to be actively focused and ready for the changes to the rhythms.  No wonder there are countless studies that show that students do better in all other subjects if they learn music:  Check this out for more information!

All – First 2 days : Mary Knysh`s book Innovative Drum Circles – using the tubanos, students were lead through a series of rhythm ideas, starting with the rhythm of their own communal breathing… building from there, rhythms are created, added, students think of their own that could connect, find ways to sing their rhythms, play others… creates community, focuses attention and listening, critical thinking, mental agility…

All Students:
Students did more percussion in October, this time leaning towards the West African Percussion style.  I feel so lucky to have learned West African percussion from several teachers, right here in Winnipeg!  For example, Jay Stoller, Jordan Hanson and Calla Isaak! To be able to play percussion with students, I took lessons in the evenings and on weekends for years so that I could share this amazing experience in class.  One of the things I found in taking these classes, was that I felt so calm and happy at them.  We love the beat.  It organizes us.  We love connecting with others in a community, and we love being connected through a shared beat or melody. One can find numerous studies explaining the benefits of drumming for wellness. Musically, a drum circle is a wonderful way to learn how to independently play one’s own part in the context of a larger ensemble, which is a great preparation for playing in junior high band or guitar.

Tubanos – a type of drum loosely based on a conga, and can be used for any drumming style, as it doesn’t come from a specific culture… I’ve used them for Japanese taiko, composing, Brazilian drumming, West African drumming and more.
Students learned or were reminded of sitting and hand positions etc


Grade 1 – Made a drum storm, then tapped the rhythm of Bonjour Mon Ami (a song we were doing in class in September)
Grade 2 – Sang Obwisana sa (Ghana) and played beat, learnedIsaaks drumming curriculum up to running and walking. Calla Isaak is a fantastic music colleague, who taught in LRSD until recently.  She shared her West African drumming knowledge with us, and created a book with a rhythm curriculum for how to build the skills for playing in this drum style.
Grade 3 – O Gode on drums (a song we learned in September), then the Jordan rhythm (this is a rhythm learned from Jordan Hanson who used to teach drumming out of his home, so we just call it ‘The Jordan’)
Grade 4 – Baobab drumming part – this is a piece written by a friend in the school division, that uses drums, dance, recorders and barred instruments.
Grade 5 – Cabaret rhythm – a rhythm taught to my classes years ago by Jordan Hanson.

AllTaiko drumming!  Again, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to learn taiko drumming right here in Winnipeg, from Fubuki Daiko and Hinode Taiko!  I took lessons during evenings with both groups at different points over the past several years, as well as having Fubuki Daiko come and work with classes with Artists in the Schools at different schools I have worked at for the last 25 years. A Fubuki Daiko member was so kind to show how to make practice drums which we still use in class today, since 2012!


We watched taiko examples as students walked into class, make connections to local taiko groups, learn how to hold sticks, body positions, how to hit a taiko drum, basic drum sounds, and learned a few pieces that I have learned from our Winnipeg taiko groups, as well as from workshops I have taken elsewhere.

Learning by Grade:

Here we have some lessons and projects that I did with students, divided up into grades:

Grade 1
We started by looking at the book Up Up Down for ascending/descending melodic contours… pre-note reading. This involved learning about the barred instruments and the rules of how we walk to them, sit at them, hold mallets etc. We would play the melodic contours on the instruments to create a soundtrack to the story.
Grade 1 learned a few songs with only G and E as notes… there is a movement game, and they learned to play a solid bordun as accompaniment while singing. Then they learned how to place the notes of the song on the stafflines with magnets, and drawing the notes themselves, and then learned how to write the rhythms.

We moved on to a song game that uses G E and add A, a game, solid bordun, note writing, rhythm writing.
Winter theme: la neige tombe, rhythm reading with Nutcracker, Trepak movement with scarves.
See below for 2020 Environment Concert preparation.

Grade 2

Students were introduced to beginning ideas of jazz, swing rhythm etc. Based on Doug Goodkin, Now’s the Time. There is a jazz course he teaches, and is completely worth taking wherever he is teaching it. I took it during my summer one year, and it completely transformed the way I teach music.  I have way more improvisation and jazz/blues music in my teaching now, which is very helpful for students who want to carry on with their music learning in junior high and high school, as improvising is a big part of those programs. Improvising also involves a different part of our brains than music that we have memorized, so it is important to do both.  If it weren’t for professional development opportunities here in Manitoba, in Canada, and beyond, I would have never had the good fortune to meet and learn from Doug Goodkin.  He came to an MTSPDDay Tempo Conference several years ago and I loved his teaching style, and learned so much. It is so wonderful and important that our various education associations such as the Manitoba Music Educators’ Association provide these learning opportunities each year, and help keep Manitoba music education at such a high level.  I’ve continued to have several opportunities to learn from Doug Goodkin and his colleagues, Sofia Lopez-Ibor andJames Harding who are also incredible teachers who I’m so thrilled to have learned from at different conferences. We start off by learning to ‘jazz walk’ (again, Doug Goodkin)… getting this feeling in your body of moving to music with a swing. Then we learn and play ‘Mama Lama’ from his Now’s the Time book; beginning of improvisation.
Crossover bordun (aka broken bordun) played with Mama Lama, and for the next song: Facteur.
For Facteur, the students figured out the melodic contour of the final line by softly playing on the barred instruments until they found the notes themselves, and then we found that it started on C, and ascended. So I used Sibelius to create that ascending line, and then the descending line. Sibelius is an amazing score-writing program, but I also use it in elementary classes adding notes in real time in front of students.  When I input notes, one can see them on the screen and simultaneously hear them through the speakers, so students can hear that the pitches played through Sibelius match the notes we are playing on the barred instruments. As well, this helps auditory and visual learners at the same time. You can watch this video to see how I do this:

I actually use the computer (projected onto a large whiteboard) quite a lot to help students visually understand what is being shared. You can click on this link to see a blog post from a while back to see different ways the computer has been used as a tool for learning in my music room.

We learned how to write the melody out ourselves on the stafflines, and then how to write out rhythms ourselves (the game has us reading rhythms as ‘letters’ that come from the ‘facteur’)
The Mitten – connecting to science curriculum. On page 2.12 of the curriculum implementation document is a “role play” activity where students move like animals, and think about how their movements help them. Students study the movement of Manitoba animals and create instrument parts to correspond. I have a YouTube playlist for animals, and the animals from this story are found in this playlist, so that students can watch how they move, and decide how to represent this movement with instruments: quiet and fast? Low and slow? Etc. Then they can play the soundtrack for the entire story!
Watched NFB`s The Sandcastle animation to look at soundtracks, sound effects, musical themes and how they connect to the action on screen. This is such an amazing animation – probably why it won an Academy Award at the time! We talked about how classroom instruments are used throughout as either theme music, or for sound effects. I have a playlist of videos for studying music and sound effects in film, which we watch to see how it’s done. Then watched Pixar’s One Man Band with no sound, and created our own musical themes and sound effects.

Water project – This is connected to the science curriculum for Grade 2. The complete project with videos can be seen here: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/m12/progetu/arts/docs/cadre_fl2/pdf/musique_vagues.pdf

See below for Environment Concert preparation.

Grade 3

Grade 3s start off by learning music games from different places in the world. To feel this connection and community with everyone on the planet.
A stick game of the Maori people in New Zealand (includes a discussion about how there are indigenous peoples all over the world, and just like the indigenous peoples whose land we share through the treaties in Canada, other countries also share land with indigenous peoples such as the Maori people). A few years ago, our school’s concert theme was about the 150+ years of sharing this land of Turtle Island of indigenous peoples and the many cultures who have arrived in this land in the past several hundred years. I don’t think I created the post about that concert yet, but I should…
We learned a rock passing game from Malawi which I learned from an Orff music professor. In fact, she taught me Orff Level 1 in the 1990s and I strongly encourage anyone who wants to teach music education in elementary school to take these courses!
We learned the cup game whose origin is the US and Mexico. As an extension, they also made their own cup game in small groups.
We look at the 500 year old painting, Children’s Games, to reflect that as long as there have been children, they have found ways to play! Sofia Lopez-Ibor (presenting at the Orff Conference in Edmonton this April 2020) shared this painting at the 2010 Orff Conference in Winnipeg, and talked about how her students learned all of these games from the painting. I can`t remember if they researched and learned the games, or made them up based on what they looked like, but we all played games that represent this painting during her session.
We did a fun movement activity with the music of In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg.
Gravity lesson. This is a lesson connecting to the Grade 3 Science Curriculum study of gravity. Students are to find examples of gravity, and then through this project, they think of examples that they could use to make music in music class. This project is available, in French, here: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/m12/progetu/arts/docs/cadre_fl2/pdf/gravite.pdf

Please see below for Environment Concert Preparation.

Grade 4

We started off learning a few new notes with a piece composed by a friend in the division, Baobab, for recorder, tubano, barred instruments, and a scarf dance.

I was honoured to be asked to create 2 lessons for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Adventures in Music concerts this year. The concert theme this year is “Avengers of the Lost Art” and is entered around a hero theme, which I love so much! Here is the first of two lessons I created. I was asked to present the lesson for a workshop for Manitoba music teachers so I taught the lesson before that day with my own students. Here is the ‘Summon the Heroes’ lesson (music by John Williams) – https://prairiemusik.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/wso-summon-the-heroes/

At the 2010 Orff Conference in Winnipeg, Jo Ella Hug presented a lesson using body percussion ideas from Keith Terry which I still use all the time. It was amazing! This lesson involves students being creative, and putting together percussion rhythms. It can go further with students transferring the percussion rhythms to pitches, so that the rhythms become melodies.

Students did a very fun activity with the piece Gnomus by Mussorgsky. They love moving around like creatures who have leapt out of a painting after hours at a museum. I describe it to them like the movie Night at the Museum, and we learn the characters of the gnomes by listening to how they are portrayed through the music. This lesson is from the Adventures in Music concert lesson booklet, and was created by Marcelline Moody who used to create all the concert themes, and would work with students to perform at the concerts! So happy so many of my students got the chance to learn from her for their WSO performances! Our students will be performing this piece on stage this year, but from a different grade. Such a thrill to be on stage performing with the symphony playing!

To prepare for future recorder learning this year, we reviewed our recorder notes from last year up to BAG with Recorder Revolutions by Tim Wiegand, which is such a fun book, and he is such a fun session leader for workshops. This is definitely a theme in this post, that so much of the learning my students do comes from a lot of professional development that I have had since graduating.

We learned about the chords of the 12 bar blues, and worked on improvising on the recorder with a basic 12 bar blues pattern, in key of C, but using just the notes G, A, C, and quarter note, 2 eighth notes (swing) and triplet for improvising criteria… They were allowed to use more notes in C pentatonic if desired, but the above notes were a minimum. The C note was the new note added. Learning to improvise with this new note is to help students become comfortable with playing each of the notes in a creative situation. Loved seeing Will Schmid teach improvising for guitar in a similar way at our Manitoba Tempo Conference several years ago.

See below for Environment Concert preparation.

Grade 5

The second of the 2 Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra lessons I was asked to create (see Grade 4 above for explanation) was to get students to compose music using an art piece as inspiration. I chose Donar-Thor by Max Friedrich Koch to have the connection to the hero idea of the concert theme. Here is the lesson: https://prairiemusik.wordpress.com/2019/08/07/wso-composition-project-2019/

Students learned Syncopatalto by Marcelline Moody – I IV and V chords, syncopation, new notes F and C on recorder.

Students performed Gnomus by Mussorgsky. The description of this lesson is above in the Grade 4 area.

Students demonstrated their understanding of the different elements of musical expression of Promenade I-IV Mussorgsky. This is part of their learning to prepare to go to the Adventures in Music concert this year.

Students created drum pieces while thinking about the environment. This connects to the Sustainable Development elements of the Grade 5 curricula for Science and Social Studies. This is another lesson available in French on the Manitoba Music Education website. Check out the entire lesson with videos etc, in French, here: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/m12/progetu/arts/docs/cadre_fl2/pdf/devdurable.pdf

Read below about the Environment Concert preparation.

2020, Concert Preparation, Environment Theme:

2 things happened back in 2015:
1. The concert was in April, so we had the environment picked as a theme because of Earth Day, which is April 22. I felt that our concert theme should be more than a theme, but instead a transformational learning experience for all involved, to start thinking more about the environment and our impact upon it, through the music that we did at the time.
2. We started an environment club because of the concert, which is – again – connected to the idea of transformational learning. During the concert preparation, our environment club was formed, and has been getting stronger and more focused each year on what our impacts as a school can be on the environment. Here is the ESG Enviro Club blog post about the history of the Environment Club: https://esgenviroclub.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/enviroclub-back-story-in-pictures/

The songs below are just ideas that are being prepared to the point that they could be in a concert. It is also possible that whatever our student teacher does with students could be integrated by myself into the concert if students choose. By the time, the student teacher is finished, there will still be 2 weeks before the concerts themselves, so it would be me who is directing the concerts, as they do not occur during the student teaching block. The environment connections with each would be explained by members of the environment club who are narrators.   As well, there may be presentations and videos from our January Environment Assembly that the Environment Club created: https://esgenviroclub.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/ready-to-go-with-our-climate-strike/
Grade 1:
J’entends le moulin – Based on the idea that we are, in a lot of ways, returning to old technology which works with renewable resources found in nature, we look at a picture of a windmill, by Monet. This is loosely connected to this lesson from the Manitoba Music Curriculum website: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/m12/progetu/arts/docs/cadre_fl2/pdf/moulin_monet.pdf . From this, we imagine what we can see, touch, taste, feel and most importantly in music – hear – in the painting. I showed a video from my YouTube integration channel of a working windmill from the past, and how this machine worked at the time and how it helped their community. We talk about how a similar process, watermills, to use the power of water is connected to the idea of how our province gets renewable energy for electricity in all homes. These mills were everywhere in the past, and made a sound that can be heard in the video, hence the song ‘J’entends le moulin’ which we are potentially doing for the concert.

Grade 2a:
Obwisana and Oh Kenke – Ghana – The description is that Obwisana is a cooperative game. It is impossible to play it without community working together. Our solutions for helping the environment need to come from community minded thinking as well. As well, we could talk about forest schools who use elements of nature for play and wonder. This is a rock passing game, making use of our environment for fun games. O kenke is a song I learned at a professional development session with J.S. Kofi Gbolonyo. We would be performing the 2 song games together, with the passing game, the circle game, and playing barred instruments.
Grade 2b:
Water themed music… A song called M. Bordeleau, with creative movement from Aquarium by St Saëns. This is to connect to their study of water (see Grade 2, 2019).

Grade 3a:
A wonderful stick game created by Sherryl Sewepagaham, Indigenous People’s traditional relationship with the land is part of the Province of Manitoba’s Sustainable Development learning. The game includes teachings about the 4 directions which are often included in songs. Students also do a round dance, which travels to the left as it is the path of the earth around the sun and is considered healing. The students have done round dances at Folk Dance in the Park for years. The sticks are also passed to the left for the same reason. I am so thrilled to have had the chance to learn from her at our Manitoba Tempo Music Conference in 2019.
Grade 3b:
Mama lama – a great piece for beginning understanding of jazz, improvising, from Doug Goodkin’s book Now’s the Time (listed above in the Grade 2 area). We relate this to the many festivals in Manitoba, and how they are incorporating many environmental ideas like valet parking for bikes so it is easier to actively commute to the festivals, or plate return programs at The Winnipeg Folk Festival, who is has won awards for their environmentalism.

Grade 4a:
Students are creating a percussion piece using music/fraction manipulatives to create various rhythms, which will then be put together in a standard musical form to create music with their own instruments created out of reused/repurposed items, a design project from the Grade 4 Science Curriculum: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/science/found/kto4/4c3.pdf Page 4.44
Also related to learning fractions in the Math curriculum, starting on page 99 https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/math/support_gr5/number.pdf
Grade 4b: Baobab is the name of the song, and is listed above in the Grade 4 area of what they have learned so far this year. A Baobab is a tree and just like other trees, helps the planet with carbon storing, therefore it is important to protect them and forests. Talk about our tree planting plan.

Grade 5a:
Playing their drum pieces they created about helping the environment:

They thought about problems and solutions and included them in a their piece.
Grade 5b:
Taiko drumming – an example of zero waste – these drums we made had lids and plastic circles cut out of them. Instead of throwing those away, they were given to ArtsJunktion, who in turn gave them to another school to be reused for an art project! I mention this to students often, so they know that in every class, and in many situations throughout our day, we can think of ways to help the environment.

The above lessons and concert preparation ideas are just some of the learning that has taken place this year! I tend to teach many songs, and concepts embedded into larger Project Based Learning units so that each song, or lesson is interconnected with a bigger theme. It also helps with students seeing a bigger purpose to all the learning they do, and how everything is connected. Excited as always to continue on with the rest of the year, and so excited to learn from our student teacher!

WSO Summon the Heroes

I created a lesson for our Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Adventures in Music concert.  It is for the opening piece, Summon the Heroes, by John Williams. The version we are using has been shortened a bit but the majority is still there. I’m working with about 4 classes to see how this lesson reveals itself with students.  I fully expect to have different results with each class, because they will “incorporate serendipitous discoveries” in their own music learning, as one can see from the Manitoba Music Curriculum.

I asked them what is their definition of a hero.  So many answers came… at first it was, of course, Batman, Superman, The Avengers.  One student shouted “Me!” and I loved this and we came back to it later.  I asked what makes them heroes.  The answer came that they are helping people and saving people.  I asked if saving people is what makes a hero, then how can we expand our definition.  Now more answers came: firefighters, police, paramedics.  There were examples of other students helping each other, or even standing up for each other when they needed more support.  This was when I came back to the student who shouted “me”, and said that we can stand up for ourselves, which can be hard to do.

Other classes led me to change the way I ask these questions, to encourage expanding their thinking.  I have the luxury of having several classes of the same grade level to be able to rethink the way I do projects to inspire deeper thinking and learning.  I changed my approach to asking “Who is a superhero?” They answer typical names like different comic book/movie super heroes.  Then I ask “What makes someone a superhero?” We had some responses such as being able to fly… this is where it is helpful to know your superheroes!  I responded “But Captain America doesn’t fly…” And same with many others.  So the response became they are helping or saving others.  Then I re-ask, “Based on this definition, now who is a superhero?”  We start getting answers such as “My dad!” “We all can be heroes!”  The same results are occurring with this new way of asking the questions, but it just happens in a more organized or streamlined fashion.

We listened to the opening section of the piece which was fabulous because I love how children are immediately inspired to use big, shooting movements with their arms, and BE the music when they are listening.  I know from speaking with some of the organizers of this fantastic yearly WSO event that this energy and response from children is one of the things that makes it one of their favourite concert series to do each year.  Who else has such passionate responses to music?  When do we lose this?  A child had a strong response to the symphony this past year and expressed his emotions at the end of the piece.  Happily, that orchestra and people present absolutely loved this emotional response, and it was well publicized.  Thank you to the WSO for encouraging the enthusiasm with young audiences.  They share their love of music with over 35 000 students a year.  No wonder we have such a musical province, full of love of the arts.

I asked what instruments they heard for the opening, which were timpani and trombones, which I said is like one would hear for a fanfare.  They left marching like the entrance of royalty, and we will continue next class!

It subsequent classes, we left the room with a superhero swagger… lol!  You can tell I’ve watched a lot of these… Okay so, to be fair, Thanos is not a superhero, he is a super villain… but – same swagger. I had a video of superheroes walking before but the link doesn’t work. You get the swagger idea in any case 🙂

To do the actions that can be found on Page 23 of the WSO Adventures in Music Adventures of the Lost Art 2020 Concert booklet, I created a graphic for students to follow:

Summon the Heroes structure ish

The instructions for how to do this activity are best followed in that booklet created for this concert.  Even better, I have always found that the best way to know how to do these activities is to go to the workshops themselves, because doing the actions and being involved always helps one learn better, which is a huge part of the Orff approach to music education!

As it says above, I used the A melody for a small group of heroes to walk forward… then if it says Melody A again, a different group walks forward… Actions is where the children have created an action for their hero of choice.  Then for Melody B, that is when whichever heroes just walked forward would now walk to the side, forming a new line in front on each end of the room.

We open with the intro, which has the Melody A theme, but instead of having heroes walk in this part, it is all the heroes standing in a powerful statue.  I gave Matilda the Musical as an example, which often has a graphic of her standing with a very powerful pose.  We also talked about how she is a hero for standing up for herself, and eventually all the children in that show stand up for each other and are their own heroes.

To ensure students know what to do, we would hold up 1 finger for Melody A, 2 fingers for the Action music, and 3 fingers for the walking to the side music.  It is very good to go through the whole piece, and even toggle back and forth, making sure they recognize each section.

I did the ending several different ways than what I portrayed in the actual study guide, and I am still changing it!

Some things came up while trying to work with groups on this that come from other elements of other arts.

Breaking Character:
We would have discussions of how one cannot start laughing with the person next to them, or fix their shirt etc when they are supposed to be staring out to the middle distance as their hero character.  We talked about ‘Breaking Character’ which can make it difficult for an audience to continue believing in the action in the scene in front of them if people are looking right and left and making faces at friends, or perhaps laughing with people in the audience.

Fourth Wall:
While talking about not looking directly at people in the audience, we did talk about ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’ which does actually happen so one cannot say that we never look at audience members.  This can happen when someone is doing a monologue… but even then, you are still delivering your monologue in character, and may not indicate recognition of your friend in the 2nd row etc, which can be hard, but something to strive for.

I did this with some classes and found that even when they had heard all the melodies, they were still not necessarily able to determine when to walk forward, or where to go, or how to make a straight line when walking to the side… so we ‘blocked’ the actions first, with the music quieter, and determined which heroes move when, and what it means to move to the side… And then we moved to actually performing the actions.

I did this activity with several different classes, including Grade 2-4 and they all loved it, and loved having power poses and actions!  A cool way to get them to listen for different sections in a orchestral piece!


Additions… Always great to incorporate current events or things that children see in the world… One child brought up Nelson Mandela.  One day when we were talking about heroes, it happened to be our Terry Fox day so we talked about how many people were helped because of what he did even though he couldn’t help himself.  We talked about Greta Thunberg, who quietly started having climate strikes in Sweden by herself, and yet by the time of writing this post, she was about to embark on one of the largest climate strikes of young people in the world, and had just spoken to the US Senate the day before and told them to read the UN report and listen to the scientists if they aren’t going to listen to children.  She has described her neurodiversity as a superpower that helps her think outside the box, and that this is a time where we need outside-the-box thinking.


WSO Composition Project 2019

This exciting project is part of the Winnipeg Symphony Orhestra’s Adventures in Music concert series, for 2020!  Over 35 000 students have amazing educational experiences with our Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra EVERY YEAR, and this program, where students compose with, create visual art for, perform with the symphony is like none other.  For this particular project, students from a few select classes are invited to create compositions based on a painting of Thor:


After they create this work, the chosen classes will have an amazing opportunity to work with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence, Harry Stafylakis, who will collaborate with the students at their schools and hear their compositions.  He will then take the compositions that students made and create an orchestral work for the WSO.  Quite a powerful experience.  Students from a class at my school were absolutely honoured to have this opportunity last year and loved thinking about that year’s project, which was looking at a poem and creating music as a response to the poem.  You can read all about that project here. The process of thinking through the poem and how to create music for it, as well as the fascinating day of mutual learning and collaboration with Mr. Stafylakis was an incredible experience.

This year, I was given the chance to create my own lesson based on representing an artwork through a composition.  I know that truly experiencing an artwork is more than simply looking at it and deciding if we “like” it or not.  I had fantastic art specialists throughout public school, even in elementary school, where we would think about the art we were seeing, analyzing all elements and what an artist would be trying to tell us through their works, and I took a course in university where we visited the Winnipeg Art Gallery to see works of Wanda Koop to truly analyze what we were seeing, then create a collective drama creation at the end of the process to represent our response to her artworks.  The idea of truly looking at this painting of Thor with students made me want to collaborate with an art specialist to make sure we are looking at art in a thoughtful way that connects to Visual Art as a subject. Thankfully Brent Johnson, Education and Community Outreach Coordinator for the WSO was able to connect me with Alison Froese to collaborate with and help me make sure I was headed in the right direction.  I had found this link for how to look at art in four steps from the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. She agreed that this was a good way to look at art, and she shared some other examples of Norse art to share with students here, here, and here.  Thank you so much, Alison Froese for all your help with this project!

I created a lesson, but really wanted to try it out with my classes to see what might transpire before I share my lesson with others at the WSO/MB Orff workshop!  I am lucky to have 4 classes of the same grade to share this lesson with, to see the diverse ways they responded to the same painting, and the different conversations that arose.  As I share the process we all went through, they will be somewhat mixed together.

While I love doing collective creations such as this, where all the students are learning along with me, and there are many examples of me doing so through this blog, this doesn’t make it any less daunting for me to try something new at the beginning of any project.  When I set out to create a composition representing a poem last year, I was very nervous, because I didn’t know what was going to happen.   It is a normal reaction when trying something new, and breaking out of safe patterns where we truly grow and learn. That is where we start with any creation: we don’t know what is going to happen. This is why I wanted to create a blog post showing how a creation unfolded for us in this situation, including all the conversations, responses, and “serendipitous discoveries” that we had throughout the process.

Often this concept of doing something unknown such as letting students truly create, while adding or discovering curriculum connections as one goes is uncomfortable and causes us to not want to try open ended projects as we are worried they might not “work out”.  It helps with this stage at the beginning of learning to understand that the first stage of learning is “disorientation”, and is a completely natural stage.  Students experience it all the time, but with collective creations that are open ended, or inquiry projects or Project Based Learning, we all learn together and the teacher is more facilitator and learning along with the students, naturally including their perspectives and insights, therefore the teacher needs to be able to work with this feeling of not knowing how a project may end up, and truly following the flow, while weaving in their expertise and outcomes through the process.  You can see the learning cycle from Marilyn Taylor here:

Stage 1 – Disorientation: The learner is presented with an unfamiliar experience or idea which involves new ideas that challenge the student to think critically about his/her beliefs and values. The learner reacts by becoming confused and anxious. Support from the educator at this point is crucial to the learner’s motivation, participation and self-esteem.

As a learner in this process ourselves, we need to motivate ourselves to keep working through the process as we don’t know where it may lead.  A master of this type of creative process is James Harding who I had the pleasure to attend his workshops for Orff in San Diego where I was absolutely thrilled to see this type of open ended creativity happening with students at the San Francisco School where he teaches, and then 3 sessions at the Canadian Orff Niagara Falls Conference! I loved how he took us through collective creations in each of his sessions, one of which I loved how he enthusiastically stated at the end that he really didn’t expect the lesson to go as it did while being truly comfortable with following the creativity, which is a marker of this type of creation – we don’t want to push the creation back in the direction in which we imagined it would turn out… it is amazing to watch as it grows into its own event. You can read my review of one of his enchanting Niagara Falls sessions here on page 10 of the Orff Canada Ostinato.

That being said, it is completely acceptable to start out selecting some musical criteria from our Manitoba Music Curriculum that you wish to achieve through the process, if there are elements you feel the children should work with more.  If you want them to work on musical form, or musical expression, or exploring different metres, these are all wonderful goals to explore through the creation.  No different than when a chef wants to experiment with a certain type of food creation that consists of specific ingredients and see where it might take them.

Starting out – looking at the painting:

We went through the 4 steps of Practicing Looking at Art , and had many conversations about what we saw… elements, actions, moods.  We talked about how this is Thor, the legend, not necessarily Thor from the recent movies.  However, there are many connections between the 2, but because this painting is from 1905, this painting itself is not connected to the 3 different Thor movies.  We talked about the various elements that are in the movies that are connected to legendary Thor, but that the way things played out in the films aren’t necessarily connected.  Most important is that movie Thor doesn’t have a chariot led by goats.  Legendary Thor clearly does have a chariot with goats, as can be seen in this painting.  You can look up  Legendary Thor vs Marvel Thor and find a lot more information on this.  Do so with your students as well, as it is interesting and may affect how they create the music for the goats, if they choose to include that.

Your students would have their own responses, but in my classes at my school, after going through the 4 steps of looking at art, we generally decided for ourselves that Thor is riding very quickly (as you can see from his hair blowing, and the wind under the chariot) towards something.  We don’t know what… a battle?  A war?  He has lightening coming from his hammer, and there are thunderclouds forming so quickly that there is still golden light shining, as is often the case when thunder clouds start to appear.  He is the god of thunder (again, a good idea to read up on legendary Thor with students), so the thunder clouds and lightening surround him.  Below, a completely different scene plays out… a calm farming scene with ox pulling a plough.  We thought about how the clouds under his chariot which may also be wind (and the wind that also seems to be a cape behind him) is a dividing feature between these 2 moods of this painting.  We talked about how when you fly in a plane, it may seem cloudy below but there is a different feeling up beyond the clouds where it is still sunny, and that is the “world” where Thor lives.  So Thor is up above the clouds taking care of this or that situation, racing to perhaps a battle, while life continues below for mortals.

Creating musical themes from the painting:
We divided up the painting, drawing a line across the artwork ( on my interactive white board), to show that there is a scene above the clouds, and below, that seem to have different moods, we felt.   I put squares around the areas we felt we were inspired by for our composition.  Each class picked different things, but here are some:

Thunder clouds
Golden sky
Wind under the chariot
Goat hooves


Compositon groups:
I made the squares with different colours, then asked them to pick the parts they were inspired by and start creating the sounds they wanted to use to represent those areas just with voices or body percussion.  I could hear the hammer, and melodic contours for other parts, and percussion sounds for the thunder clouds… I placed the different colours around the room (whatever you have, paper, scarves), and children went to the colours of the part of the painting they were inspired by.  For example, if the thunder clouds had a blue circle, then I had a blue scarf in a corner, and students went over to it to start discussing how they would represent the thunder clouds through music. I visited each group and we would talk about if drums should immediately be loud when the actual storm isn’t there yet, the thunder clouds are just starting to come.  Or, how can we use our bodies to show the movement of the wind and how can we transfer that to a melody on the barred instruments.  A favourite statement of mine with Thor’s hammer is that he isn’t building a house with it and tapping it over and over, it is a powerful tool that slams down once, and how can we represent the build up to that, and the power of it with the instruments in our class.  With one of the classes I didn’t give an expectation of creating a musical theme for each element, so it ended up being more percussive.  With subsequent classes, I added the criteria of wanting to separate a sound effect (and I used the example of Darth Vader’s breathing through his mask) and a musical theme that is used to represent him. We talked about Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and how we don’t hear the sound effect of sweeping brooms when the brooms arrive, we hear a musical theme that demonstrates their relentlessness. A wonderful activity with students is to watch one of my favourite films of all time, an NFB film called The Sandcastle and talk about how there are actual sound effects such as Foley artists would do, then instruments (mostly ones we have in our classrooms) being used as sound effects, and instruments being used as musical themes for different characters in the movie.  I show this to students often, and use it for various reasons as something I can refer back to when needed.  We talked about how those themes sometimes incorporate the movement of the thing being portrayed but it’s still a melodic theme.  There are so many examples of music that is created to have the impression of some element of nature or an animal etc, like Carnival of the Animals by St. Saëns, les réflets dans l’eau by Debussy, The Snow is Dancing = Debussy, Venetian Boat Song – Mendelssohn, Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev etc etc.

Excerpt from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Or working as a class?
This method of letting them go off in small groups, above, to create their theme in a small group is different than my method last year, where with each element of the poem we all looked at together and decided what we would want to bring out.  There is no reason for the difference, either method can work, based on what you are comfortable with.  It depends on if you want to make sure you keep having focussed discussions about each element as a class or if you feel small group discussions facilitated by you are fine.  It might also depend on how often you send students off into creative groups to compose.  This is a very common occurrence to create music in small groups and large groups in my classes starting as soon as they are my students which used to be kindergarten, but now is grade 1.  They even spend the last bit of June composing and presenting their compositions each class… it is so amazing to watch that I am enchanted and inspired by each and every class for the last bit of school before summer.  Because they are so used to going off into groups and composing, it is very natural to say “Who wants to do Thor’s hammer? Off you go!” and they create, with me visiting their group and discussing how to focus their ideas around what we are seeing in the painting.  It is during these creations they make that I will share the names of musical concepts that they used naturally in their piece, and we talk about them as a class.  For example, one group may use the idea of canon in their creation, or another may use crescendo, and we all talk about it.  This is high level learning where they have synthesized various musical concepts we use in the music room and created something from it.

I chose to do small groups, so I will continue with what we did:

In some cases, when I let groups go off into areas of interest, such as thunder clouds, I could tell they weren’t sure what to do, as the facilitator.  This is where as the facilitator, I can step in and start to help them focus their ideas, by providing some support, or scaffolding.  For example, with one group I actually brought the whole class over and we all moved close together, and made ourselves small and low to the ground, and then we rose up and spread out in the room, like we imagined thunder clouds would as they arrive.  This may help them think about how they might create a melody for that.  But, I may find out by the next class that they still aren’t sure how to proceed.  From there we could all imitate the movement again and decide (either continuing in a small group or as a class) how we could transfer that movement to a melodic contour which would build into a musical theme for the clouds.  Then, we can talk about what we want to do with that melodic shape we created… do we want to use repetition?  Do we want to use augmentation? Play it in retrograde?  Maybe many different compositional devices (or click this link) could be used to demonstrate the clouds puffing outwards, upwards, downwards, slower, faster in some places… maybe with a quick speed or accelerando to show it is growing quicker and quicker, and perhaps with a crescendo as it gets closer, adding orchestration to add to the building of the clouds… and then everyone can vote together if they agree with any of these ideas.  Or maybe through this discussion someone starts to get an idea of what they think they would like to add here and you put that in, too, because everyone is collaborating and it’s exciting!

Listen to each theme:
Take time to listen to each theme as a class, and get students to explain why they chose the melodies, instruments etc that they chose, and what they were trying to portray through their choices… Because it is a collective creation, you can invite the whole class to share ideas to potentially add to their theme, or share things they think are working etc.

I love to show students examples of composers doing these same things that they are doing, such as describing their musical thought processes.  Here,  Vincent Ho does this on his website.  He is explaining how he used music to convey his relationship to the Arctic, with his Arctic Symphony:

For the first movement, I. Prelude – Lamentations, I wanted to open with the sense of wonder and enchantment that I felt when I first arrived in the Arctic. To convey this, I decided to compose a very simple harmonious chorale for the strings (Prelude) so it may invite the listener into the world that I walked into. The next section takes a different turn (Lamentations). After learning about some of the things that were occurring to the Northern environment and their ramifications, I thought to myself “if the land could sing what would it say or sound like?” This thought process led me to the creation of an emotion-laden song without words (conveyed primarily through the strings). For every emotional statement and sorrowful cry, the sounds of cascading harmonies and free-floating melodies drift in and out like Northern winds.

What is the final form?
Now that they have created a musical theme for each element of the painting that is of interest or “spoke” to them, we can decide how to use them in our creation.  With one group, we decided to hear each one separately, then repeat with them layering over each other until they are all playing at once, culminating with the smash of Thor’s hammer:


Okay so that image above is Marvel Thor, but a lot of them do have that image in their head, and both versions of Thor have a powerful hammer!

I created a general non-traditional notation map to follow for this so they could see the  how each element would go based on how they played:

Thor composition Allard predetermined rondo_9

This graphic shows the form of the above elements (it says A, but it could be moved later):

Thor composition Allard predetermined rondo_10

We talked about how this would be the easiest way to hear each element on its own because even though all of these elements are happening at the same time in the painting, we look at each one and consider each one separately.  I also asked several artist friends who use painting as their medium and even though they all would go about painting differently (one started in one area, then would move to the next, another would circle back and visit areas again on their canvas, and one would go all over with no particular pattern) they would all be focusing on one area in each moment… so our musical creation matches how we might look at it; first looking at clouds, then looking at the colour of the sky etc… but then taking in the whole painting at once and having everything play together.

The ox and plow scene:
By the time we moved onto the scene below the clouds,  we had experienced an odd weather day.  It is very interesting to connect to our real life experiences so we can connect to art, which was actually section 4 of how to look at art, mentioned at the beginning of this post.  At first, when we had looked at the farm/ox scene at the beginning of the project, it just seemed calm and perhaps oblivious to what was happening above the clouds.  However this particular day, all the students had been called inside before the first school bell rang because the sky was ominous.  The air was calm, there was no rain.  There was no wind… but there was rumbling of thunder and flashes of lightening.  It took almost 45 minutes for the intense storm to actually arrive, but even during the calm before the storm there was a foreboding feeling.  It changed the feeling in the scene below for us.  So that group created a calm, but minor mode mysterious sounding theme, to reflect that something is coming.

Putting the themes from the whole painting together:
Perhaps the form could change, having an ABACAD theme, where we experience the calm but foreboding theme below, then to the action of the wind, then back to the calm below, then to the thunder cloud, then calm theme again, and culminating with the smash of Thor’s hammer theme.  This would mean we might change the form from the above, but only if the group all agrees as using this as an idea for the final form… if everyone feels it makes sense as to how to experience the painting as a musical response then that might be a possibility.  Others may come up with different ideas.We tried this:

With my class that was the furthest along, we made a ‘semi’ final form…We talked about how all of the changing elements in the sky might be affecting the person with the plow below… so, we agreed to:
1. Hear the wind,
2. Go to the farm below to feel their sense of mystery and foreboding.
3. We hear the thunderclouds section
4. Return to the farm to as in 2.
5. Thor’s hammer
6. Return to farm as in 2… but don’t stop playing.
7. With the continuing sense of foreboding on earth, one layer ADDED after another (therefore they start playing together),we hear the wind added back in, then the thunderclouds, with a culminating smash of the hammer and everyone would stop. From 1-6, it is the build up, often in the same way a coming storm happens, with us noticing the wind picks up a bit. Then we think “Was that thunder?”
Next class I may ask them if they want to change the format a bit… and have Thor`s hammer only play at the end, once all the other storm layers happen… kind of like when we hear a HUGE hit of lightning that shakes the earth… I mentioned earlier the intense storm we had, which had influence our change to the farm scene to have the sense of foreboding. That same evening there was a HUGE lightning sound that shook people’s houses so they definitely were able to relate to this huge smash feeling.

Thor composition Allard final form

Adding another art medium?
I communicated with Alison Froese several times, and Joanna Black (with whom I took a course in Film Art at U of M – it’s amazing.. take it if you can) to determine what type of film style I would be creating if I were to record the final piece, and then use film techniques such as zoom in/out, pan, trucking etc to explore different areas of the painting in connection with the accompanying music.  Ms. Black felt this would be a study in film angles and shots.  One could do different angles and shots of the painting, with music that represents the responses the class had to the different areas of the painting.  When I thought about it more, I thought perhaps with the form above, this may be the experimental film style: ‘Associational Film’.  From my book “Film Art” by David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson (from the class I took… glad I kept it!) it says:

Many experimental films draw on a poetic series of transitions that create what we may term ‘associational form’.  Associational formal systems suggest ideas and expressive qualities by grouping images that may not have any immediate logical connection.  But the very fact that the images and sounds are justaposed prods us to look for some connection – an association that binds them together.

I may still do this!  The musical form itself goes back and forth from calm to something intense, so if we were to make a video of the elements of the painting in this way that match the music, the short film would be associational by the definition above, as at first we may not know what is the connection between the calm/foreboding theme, and the intense themes between.  I’m now trying to think of any musical form that does this… When we have rondo, for example, the different sections are just… different.  There is no demonstration that they are connected other than they are in the same piece of music… but in this piece, there is an association between all the A sections (the calm but foreboding scene) and what is happening in the sky.  Can anyone think of ‘associational form’ in any other pieces? Very interesting to have this film style used in music! Thank you again, to Alison Froese and Joanna Black for your collaboration with connection Visual Arts and Music learning!

Collective creations can involve a lot of loudness, and thinking, and confusing times, culminating in such rich learning.  When my students had the chance to share their final piece last year with Mr Stafylakis, they enjoyed having a chance to explain what they were communicating with each section of their piece.

photo Stafylakis and students

These students demonstrated they were able to synthesize all their knowledge and explain their thought processes using musical terms to communicate feelings and ideas to others through art, and I am thrilled that students will continue to get this opportunity this year, to share their response to an artwork!

Please check out Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer in another amazing NFB film about the creative process.


Creative Music Centres

I love this time of year during the last few music classes: it is such a wonderful time to celebrate students’ learning by sharing their creativity!

I have had centres throughout the years, which have games to learn notes and rhythms etc, but in the past 5-6 years I added creative centres for the older students.  By ‘older’ I mean Grades 3-5, which are the upper grades that I teach. As you can see in the pictures below, I have several centres, based on instrument groups, with about 4-5 students in each group.  Each class, I tell them which centre they will experience that day, and then I let them experiment, discuss, create and practice without input for ‘how’ music should sound or be composed.  THEY LOVE IT! AND SO DO I!  I am absolutely awestruck at the beautiful thoughts that come through their music at each centre!  We often spend time talking about what we heard after, and it is incredible how students just naturally seem to use music concepts that we are supposed to teach them.

So many music concepts from all four wings of our Manitoba Music Curriculum, such as solo, duet, quartet, ABA form, rondo, accelerando, intro, coda, chords, modes, canon, movement that enhances music, watching non verbal cues, collaboration, rehearsing and refining, serendipitous discoveries, playing in an ensemble, musical expression etc have naturally appeared in these beautiful creations, in a way that if I tried to impose creativity upon them with set criteria and an imposed expectation of form etc, I don’t think it would happen.  A pre-imposed set of criteria for how composition can work is certainly a technique that can be studied.  For example, if one is studying rondo form, then absolutely, one can create a rondo form piece to present to the class to demonstrate understanding.. But it is similar to art, when one studies a brush technique of a certain artist.  It is interesting to learn, but one should certainly give students a chance to have a blank page and any art tool in the room, and let them go… this is where magic happens.  After watching for several years of these creative centres, I am amazed that each time, complex musical concepts emerge with each group.  Because I am not imposing a preset plan upon them, I find that opening up the world of sound to them is highly engaging.  They come up to me and ask if they can incorporate stories, found sounds (with the body percussion centre) and so many more ideas that I may not have thought of.

As an example of an imposed set of criteria with which to compose, I share the above example and situation. With a younger grade, I use the above interactive screen with which students place rhythms and then practice them. I consider this more of an exercise of reading rhythms than composing, because it doesn’t allow them to freely express themselves, which really is what music is. The above activity is more like an activity of sticking stickers on a page instead of a creative art project. The students enjoyed it but at the end of the class when they asked to share with their teacher, it wasn’t the above rhythms they were wanting to share; instead it was the improvised rhythm they created in between waiting for the above rhythms to be placed… Therefore the above is interesting but not entirely creative.

I think that so much of what they demonstrate may happen naturally, but I also think that by the time they are in Grade 3, there has been a lot of frontloading in my classes, with learning about form, rhythms, movement to connect to music, chords etc, so that they have had years to work with music, and some of this comes out in their creations.

At the beginning of the class, I call out each centre: Boomwhackers, tubanos, taiko drums, body percussion, cup game (they create their own, based on having learned ‘the cup game’), etc.  Our classes are 30 minutes long, so at that point, they have about 15-20 mins to create something that they know they will be performing at the end of the class.  I leave about 10 mins to see all the performances, which sometimes we discuss a bit about what we saw – a new form, expression, technique etc…

With the barred instrument centre, students have created pieces that remind me of Steve Reich, and Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing.  Sometimes I will play pieces like this to share this connection after they perform.

The taiko drum centre often has amazing choreography incorporated into their pieces, from learning different taiko pieces where we switch drums during a piece.  They demonstrate playing technique and stance for this centre based on playing taiko since Grade 1.

At the tubano centre, students sometimes have choreography, and often have polyrhythms incorporated into their pieces based on various polyrhythmic pieces we learn each year from different cultures.

At the Boomwhacker centre, students have a paper with basic I, IV and V chords if they want to use them, but it is not expected.

Grade 4 and 5 students can either arrange how to play songs they know with 3 basic chords we have learned, or they can create their own 3 chord piece, which some are excited to do!  The Grade 5 students have a piece they were arranging beforehand, and have picked their accompanying instruments so this is the final day to practice and share it!

Incredibox!  They love this online centre, where they can record and present their piece for the class.  We do not use the ‘share’ or ‘save’ options… just ‘replay’ for the class and then reset for the next group.

As mentioned above, there is also a cup game centre, body percussion, and sometimes note learning games for fun, but the majority are centres where students create.

Check out this link to see some examples of what these centres can look like!

The first taiko piece has an intro with staggered entries, then 4 sections, and a coda. It follows the form of many taiko pieces that have 4 or 5 different rhythms with a clear beginning and end to the piece.  They used kiai and choreography, and clearly had fun doing so!  The second has duets, solos and an ending.

With the Boomwhacker piece, the students did not focus on the tonality, but created the musical form, rondo (ABACADA..) with solos and group playing.

The Cup Game creation incorporates several different clapping techniques, and passing.  It is different and more advanced than the original cup game, as their rhythms change each time they pass the cup.

I could record these videos all day, every day, and you would see more gorgeous patterns and reflections in their pieces – each like a beautiful and original snowflake that you get to witness one time, and then it floats or melts away.  It is truly such a joy to have these students share their ideas and work so well together.

Another element of what we see in these centres is the skills of 21st century learning, which are needed in all areas of school, and will be used in any job: collaboration, resiliency, adaptation, communication skills, community building, elasticity and more.  These skills are used in any creative classroom, but most certainly seen here.  It would not be possible for students to put together these final works without using those skills.  I often point out to students that perhaps they will not go on into a career in music, but they can always have music in their lives.  But, these 21st century skills that we experience in our creative music projects will be used in any workplace or community. The future looks amazing with these intelligent music makers.

Again, I love this time of year…

Celebrating Manitoba’s Culture and Arts – Our Spring Concert

This is my home:

And this:

And this:

And go HERE to watch more, because these videos are amazing, and show this space that I love, that some parts of my family have inhabited for thousands of years… Thanks to Travel Manitoba for the great videos showing everyone what a lovely place this is.

And there is an amazing recent video highlighting Winnipeg itself, here:

And thank you to Tourism Winnipeg for that great video!

Winnipeg has been making the news as a world destination for years, and I’m not sure everyone realizes what a gem we are in, because we are in it!  Check it out here, and here, and here, and here!

Lonely Planet has named Manitoba one of the top ten regions to visit for 2019!!

Manitoba is such an amazingly culturally diverse province, full of life through the arts: theatre, dance music, visual art etc… and because of this, I have wanted for years to have our concert theme show this beauty and energy, through our own community!

About a year ago, I started communicating with students and families (and staff) on a regular basis through the school community messages, my bulletin board, and in classes, asking if they wanted to share pictures or videos to be on the big screen during our concert, showing our own community out enjoying or participating in events… whether it be our festivals that take place in each town, or events from our arts groups, or cultural celebrations – families were invited to share their own love of our province.  I’m so excited by the pictures and videos people have shared, of beautiful dances, fun at concerts, or traditions (and I was honoured to be invited to a Holi Festival Celebration which was amazing)… I cannot wait to have this concert celebrating our own community and the province we live in.

There will be pictures and videos representing so many events, and songs from various languages and cultures representing Folklorama, Folkfest, the Jazz Festival, the Icelandic Festival, Canada Day, the Morden Corn and Apple Festival, Festival du Voyageur, the Lantern Festival and more!

Winnipeg New Music Festival:


Learning about music from our own community is a HUGE part of the Manitoba Music Curriculum.  It is important to me to always make many connections to learning outcomes from our music curriculum.  This concert, while definitely involving all of the wings of the curriculum, is certainly centred around the contextual wing:

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 9.10.09 PM

It’s really quite a brilliant document for how to teach, and how each element of the curriculum need to work together for learning.  I’ve recently been reading “Creative Schools” by Sir Ken Robinson, who describes how learning should be constructed, and I marvelled at how this curriculum is exactly his description.

Excited to start putting all the pictures and videos together for this concert!

Our narrators are acting as travel writers visiting our province, learning about events across the province!

They come on stage between classe performances and talk to each other about each new festival or event as if they are visiting it for the first time, and reading about it in an info brochure about the event!  The music has been learned using the Orff approach to music education, which involved playing, singing, instruments, rhythmic speech, listening, and movement… Children learn best through play and experiencing concepts.  Thank you to @teachingwithorff for sharing this video on the elements of the Orff approach:

Every year for decades, schools have had “Portfolio Night”, where students demonstrate their own learning for their parents.  I often tell people – parents, students, colleagues – that these concerts are the “Music Portfolio Night” where families can see all the elements of music education, along with integration of other subjects, contextual learning, community building, critical thinking skills, concentration, confidence, etc on stage in front of them as a wonderful celebration of all they can learn through music.

More about Winnipeg and Manitoba!

Music Teaches ALL Subjects!

So far today, and was only 11:30am when I started to write this piece, I have taught outcomes from the following subject areas:

Social Studies
Sustainable Development
Physical Education

I have taught the following important 21st century learning skills:

Team work
Critical Thinking

And where did I teach all of these subjects and important learning skills to prepare students for the 21st century?


While I do not have to directly and openly teach outcomes from these other subject areas for this learning to occur (studies show that simply being in a regular music program through their school aids in the understanding of other subject areas), I actually do like to make these connections known to students, families, and the general public, because it is well known:


Music improves math understanding. Study: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3346/aafac05cdc40e281291459b321634ce6deca.pdf

Music improves literacy skills. Study:

Music improves understanding in ALL OTHER SUBJECT AREAS. Study:

Music is better for your brain than ANY OTHER ACTIVITY. Studies mentioned:

Music – The Remarkable Effects on Student Success.  Studies mentioned:

And 20 more reasons that Music Education is important, just for fun:

This is what I did this morning alone… I still have a whole afternoon ahead of me to teach the beauty of music, the arts, culture and who we are as humans, while also helping students develop a deeper understanding of all other subject areas mentioned above:


Students in regular reading classes are reading one alphabet.  Often, they are using the Roman aka Latin alphabet.

In music, one is thinking about 2, even 3 systems of language at the same time.

Music alone is:

– notes
– rhythms

One has to read them simultaneously. When we are reading a music selection, we have to read it 2 times; once for rhythm, once for the note names… and then with an instrument we have to connect the finger positions to that. I often tell them that returning to their classroom to read regular texts must seem easy by comparison. Students are learning an entirely new language with music, which a complex system, as described above.  Understanding it involves using skills used with reading their standard language: following left to right, from top to bottom, looking ahead to see what the next symbol is.

A study about the immense improvement in reading skills when students have regular music instruction:


And another one:


And another one:


And… another one:



Reading notes also involves using math skills such as fractions (whole note, half note, 8th note etc… aptly named and easy to see the fraction connection) as well as patterns.  Music has interesting patterns because they can be ones seen regularly in a traditional math class (and language with poetry):
-Increasing patterns

… But also compositional techniques such as a line that is repeated:

– higher or lower
– in retrograde
– lengthening or shortening the note durations (quarter notes become half notes in the repeated section)
– in canon

If you want to read more amazing information about the connections between math and music with composition, please check out this amazing blog, which I must look into further:


… so patterns have many more possibilities in music, and it is amazing that we can HEAR these patterns, or dance them etc…

I do have to say that I wrote above about when something (patterns, for example) is taught in a “traditional” math class.  What I mean, unfortunately, is a class we are used to, where math is removed from contexts of where it is used in real life, and put on a page in a textbook, or a photocopied booklet.  While it is important to do some examples to ensure that one is able to figure out math problems, the issue here is that this invites students to say “Why do we have to do this?” When math is seen in a context, this question doesn’t come up.  We are figuring out these fractions or we can’t create the frame for this art work (this just happened the other day). These fractions in these bars of music can also be seen as a number line, and we can hear them, sing them, move to them, and discover why this music is so enchanting (see HERE for more info on this – when my son and I clapped, sang, and danced number lines from his math homework).

French and French Culture
Sustainable Development

I teach in a French Immersion school.  In my room, I love teaching about the world through music.  Because it is a French Immersion school, I am also teaching French, through music, through which I teach about the world!  All morning, of course, we are learning songs in French, the language of French, new vocabulary, French culture, because it is almost Festival du Voyageur. We also talk about the history of the lives of the voyageur, the companies, forts, locations (geography) around Canada connected to this topic. This is part of the Social Studies curricula in different grades. The Manitoba Music Curriculum is 1/4 about putting music in context, which is how all of these different subjects come up.  So a song like “J’entends le moulin”, I explain how a mill works (check out this cool video of a working mill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFcnF1yS4o4&index=54&list=PL00D36BF7482F8AC3&t=0s  ), which of course uses gears etc and is part of the Science curriculum. While watching the video, we hear the sound of the mill working, and then sing the song!  We also talk about Sustainable Development, and how currently, many businesses and communities are returning to these sustainable ways to produce energy, such as harnessing the power of the wind, water.

A large part of the Physical Education curriculum is movement.  In music class, we learned dances connected to the voyageurs, such as the Red River Jig (which again involves learning history to see where this dance style comes from, and learning about the Métis people, Louis Riel).  I was just asked by the Phys Ed teacher to do special sessions for Festival du Voyageur next week during our celebrations, and I looked back at last year when I taught dances for this all day, and I had over 21 000 steps that day! Moving to music is a part of showing one’s understanding of musical concepts, and it gets your heart pumping!

All of this happened before 11:30am… and continues in the afternoon, and each day before and after!

Music truly involves so many other subjects, ideas.  It is the connection to cultures, history, and brings so much wellness to each day!



Wellness… music and arts are so beneficial, doctors may begin to prescribe them:


Wellness and learning:


Some of my favourite PD events have been when we bring all the subjects together to see how we can show the interconnectedness of each of these areas, our world, and our lives in it.  It reminds me of the story of the elephant, in which different people are trying to describe an elephant by only describing one part… and it ends up sounding like 6 different things entirely, because they are missing the whole elephant.  Teaching should be the same: interconnected, and seeing the whole picture.

Understanding Fraction Number Lines Through Music!

So! I have used fractions in music class before, for grade 4 and 5, to understand rhythms but also to illustrate fractions in a different way, because music and math are interconnected! Depending on how far you want to look into this fascinating connection, check out some amazing music and math with Vi Hart!

In this post, you can see my fraction cards… but I should really make a new post about all the different ways I have used them in class, for understanding rhythms and for connecting numeracy and musical literacy… Music and literacy and numeracy are all interconnected, and it is so important to have music specialists to show these important connections, because there are studies that show that music aids in the understanding of literacy and numeracy.

Case in point this evening! I was working on fractions, out of my child’s Grade 7 fractions booklet. I have never tried to link musical understanding with the Grade 7 math curriculum, because I teach K-5 students so I have made many math/music connections with those grades… but this is new. I know that he has had difficulty understanding number lines before as a way of looking at fractions… but then this happened this evening as I noticed the first number line was out of 8… as are many songs when one counts each of the 8th notes in 4/4 time. If I have lost you, then this is why music specialists are so important, because if they are reading this blog they are completely with me on this!! 😄 And – this is important because children are inherently musical, playful, and dance and move to music… so this understanding of connection is natural to them!

Because my child dances and sings and has a strong connection to rhythms, I immediately made this music connection with him to help him understand:

You can see I drew a pie with 8 pieces, as 8th notes… then we found each fraction we were to find on the number line, but also on the pie… and realized 10/8 is in the 2nd bar. I added clapping images and we clapped the fractions over and over… Then we looked at the second example out of 10… I said this can still happen and be musical and amazing so you can see my examples of Dave Brubeck, Take 5 on the paper:

And Turn the World Around – Harry Belafonte and The Muppets:

So we clapped these and then added these fractions to the number line and tried it! So fun!

He then was very interested and asked if there is 6 beats per bar, or even 1… So I told him about the piece Nimrod the Mighty Hunter by Benjamin Britten.  Go to 1.23 to see the masterful conducting and performance of this piece:

I had to conduct in a university conducting class where there was a bar (or two… can’t remember) with 1 beat in the piece! It kept changing! There is a whole math lesson in that piece I’m sure!

I found him 7 beats per bar, in an absolute favourite by José Gonzalez, called Afterglow:

It has 7 beats per bar! But also can be divided into 2, 2 and 3, which is how it would be conducted… but it is just so delightful in its asymmetry! So we danced to it because the longer 3 makes delightful options for extended movement.

Obviously this all may have taken longer than just generally describing number lines… but… At the end of all of this I asked if what we were doing with music helped and he said:

“Yes, it really did. I have never understood number lines before until just now.”

Think about that for a minute…

Gardner’s Intelligences: Musical, kinesthetic… Reggio Emilia, the 100 Languages, or ways children learn:

And more. Children learn in so many ways, and after more than a year of having number lines explained in a “traditional” way, here is someone who understands this concept through music and movement. It was a moment of awe for me.

There are studies that show that students score better in fractions when explained through music:






Making these interconnections between subjects instead of teaching them in separate and isolated ways, learning through the arts… the arts on their own are so important for expressing that which is inexpressible through words alone, so music on its own as its own subject is indespensible. But, it is also important learning deeply about cultures, history, emotions, critical thinking, self-discipline, collaboration, science, and math and so many other areas…. its power should be highly valued.


Global School Play Day!

“Play is the work of childhood.” Jean Piaget

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” Mr Rogers

I just happened to catch on Twitter last night that today was Global School Play Day! The idea is that children learn so much through play.

There was an amazing article in the Orff Canada “Orff Mosaic” magazine a few years ago which was all about unstructured play in the music room. It was very inspiring.

In music class, “playing” can be the beginning of composing. A few months ago when my wonderful grade 5 class had the incredible opportunity to work with the Composer-in-Residence, Harry Stafylakis ( https://prairiemusik.wordpress.com/2018/11/07/inspired-by-poetry/ ), one student asked when he had created his first composition. He answered pensively, saying it depends on if it was the first time he actually had a completed piece performed by a symphony… or is it way back when he would be experimenting on the piano as a child… that is so important that he included this experimentation as the beginning of his becoming a composer… and so experiment we did!

Today, I told children about Global School Play Day, reminded them to share, be respectful to others and the instruments, but then I just let them go! It made my role be more that of a facilitator; showing students how this or that instrument works, watching the different ways they interact with their choices… it was amazing!

Students would try new instruments, or play with a friend, or show how a new instrument works…

I loved how they were just glowing! Students would skip everywhere to the next thing to try! It reminded me of my own child, running and skipping to school for his portfolio night: https://prairiemusik.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/a-series-of-enchantments/ .

I loved the little duos and trios they formed to work together on something. I loved how they danced as they played… Children do not separate music and dance; they are interconnected as they should be. It reminds me of the whole point of the Orff approach to music education: that children learn music through play and movement… so giving them a chance to freely do so and get out of their way with no expectations or criteria they must follow is liberating for them and a lesson in how children can do amazing things without teachers telling them how to all the tine… I loved seeing educational assistants trying instruments too! And students who have assistants with them felt free to play in whatever way they enjoyed… I had several students tell me they had something that they created that they wanted to share with the class next time! Can’t wait!

what a glorious day! This should happen more often!