Unit 6: Chorus and Other Ensembles
Orchestra and band are the typical instrumental music ensembles in K-5 schools. Traditionally, orchestral music has been the focus of El Sistema. However, some Sistema teachers also provide students with opportunities to play in other kinds of ensembles. K-5 music teachers are often searching for repertoire that introduces students to a variety of cultural contexts and increases their understanding of music and the world from which it originates. Teachers are also using Sistema-inspired instruction with their choral ensembles.
At Ivy Preparatory Academy — a public charter school in Atlanta — Aisha Bowden, director of the AMPlify choral program, uses a Sistema approach mixed with a variety of strategies she developed as a public school educator. She and teaching artist director James Dekle use solfège to help k-5 students learn to sight-read music. They hope to set students on a path that will inspire them to join the renowned college choirs in the Atlanta area.
In Alaska, the JAMM program at Glacier Valley Elementary School incorporates Tlingit dance and drumming, step dance (body percussion), African drumming, and rock band in its music offerings for students in grades 2-5. Team teaching is key to helping students develop musicianship and habits for working effectively in an ensemble.
Rock band promotes an unusual collaboration by combining members of the guitar club with students of different ages (first, fourth, and fifth grade) who play clarinet, flute, trumpet, and violin. As is the case in Venezuela, students are invited to join special ensembles once they have demonstrated mastery of their instrument. Students are engaged by familiar music with the challenge of a new key — E major, which has four sharps. Rock band provides a fun way for kids to tackle something tough.
Culturally relevant practices are woven into the Glacier Valley music curriculum with the help of American Indian studies specialists and community members. Dressed in Tlingit regalia, Hans Chester, a second/third-grade teacher who is Tlingit, teaches traditional dance and drumming to a group of students from the school’s diverse population.