Song as a Second Language: Reports from the Field
APRIL 27, 2018
The Far Brook School
Short Hills, New Jersey
Jamila Piracci, Soprano
Erasmia Voukelatos, Piano
Catharina Greenberg, French Teacher
40 Children 6-7 Years Old Language: French
Music: Nicolette - Maurice Ravel
Crepescule – Jules Massenet
Ouvre ton Coeur – Georges Bizet
I chose this school for my first class because the school has a strong belief in the role of art, including music, in all aspects of life. The school embraced my proposal to present the program because of this and because I could represent to the children an example of working in a non-arts field while living out and seeking to improve my own artistry.
We introduced the program by asking the children to try to guess the meaning of ‘art song’. We then defined it as ‘poetry set to music by a classical composer for voice and piano’. We used props such as closed and blooming flowers, a wolf puppet, a pretend ladybug, and coins.
I worked with the lower school music teacher and the French teacher. We identified a theme running through the songs flowers as a representation of the state of the heart – innocent and open, closed and hidden, and reopened again in a new day. In ‘Nicolette’, the girl’s story starts with her innocently picking flowers in the meadow and progresses with her encountering other characters, each of whom seek her trust (her heart). In ‘Crepescule’, the flowers are closed and ladybugs hide inside the petals at dusk. We have spoken our sweet nothings and we can also rest our heads. In ‘Ouvre ton Coeur’, we are asked to open our hearts like a flower to the sun. We explored these themes at the children’s level through visual aids and conversations about what flowers do at night and in the morning, and we illustrated how the poetry and the music in art song paint a picture of life and feeling.
For ‘Nicolette’, our accompanist and I first performed the song, then the accompanist played alone while the French teacher used shadow puppets to act out key parts of the story. Then we had the children divided into four groups, each of which stood up based on cues from me to act key moments during each of the fours verses of the song while we performed it a last time.
For ‘Crepescule’, we performed the song and then asked the children what feeling or image came to mind during the song. They were remarkably accurate sharing words like ‘satisfying’, ‘relaxing’, and ‘calm’ and twenty others of equal value. We used this to illustrate how art song can be meaningful even when the words are unknown. We let the children know they had uncovered words that were right in line with the flowers going to sleep. (Erasmia and I also shared how we became musicians. I shared how the expression of feeling through music, and my Mother’s attentiveness to the feeling that was inspired in me, was how I was drawn to singing.
For ‘Ouvre ton Coeur’, we asked the class how we could awaken the flowers – what they needed to open. With a strong hint from us they were able to guess the sun. We performed the song and then asked what part of the song sounded like the flowers were still closed and which part sounded like they had awakened. They guessed correctly. Then, we taught the children a simplified version of one verse and we sang together to end the program.
The program was not only informative but great fun!
Report submitted by Jamila Piracci