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Schools add back music for lower grades

Orchard Hill Elementary School Principal Jeff Carpenter is hearing more singing in the hallways and at recess. The outpourings follow reinstatement this fall of music instruction for kindergarten through second-grade students at all Phoenix-Talent School District elementary campuses after a 10-year absence.

Andrew Brock, who taught music at Talent Elementary for 16 years until it was discontinued in June 2009, accepted the offer to teach the lower grades and special education classes at all three schools.

“We had 10 years of kids not knowing the difference between a violin and a trumpet,” said Brock. A top goal for Brock is to get the kids excited about making music, he said. He works to teach basic musical concepts such as high and low, soft and loud, fast and slow,

District budgeting allowed for reintroduction of a program for early learners this fall, said Carpenter. It was a board of education goal to bring it back. In December students will present music programs at each school.

“A big part of that is its unplanned language development, because they are using words. It’s a good class for the kids, and they are happier,” said Carpenter. Research has shown positive links between music education and other learning skills, he said.

The music room at Talent Elementary is familiar territory to Brock. Although it got new carpet, there are no chairs, so the children sit on the multilevel floor with many on rugs that feature a music score with notes and clefts. The district also got new electronic keyboards for each school’s music room and a new computer for Brock.

Each music room has several Orff xylophones, basic instruments created by German composer Carl Orff to educate children. Bars on the xylophones are easily removed and replaced — the task can be handled by students — so that teachers can get students to produce only the sounds they need in a certain musical arrangement. A base Orff xylophone costs about $800. Other instruments include drums, maracas, tambourines, triangles, wood blocks with mallets and a guiro Latin percussion instrument. They’ll all be used when the students perform in the December programs.

First-graders at Talent Elementary hit high and low bars with a mallet on the xylophone at the right moments while the class sang along Thursday afternoon. Then Brock had the students hand the mallets to another student.

While music is the focus, there’s a diversity of learning going on in Brock’s classes. With a special education class, he led them in the song “Where is Thumbkin?” which has the students singing about their digits. At other times he will incorporate a simple math lesson into the music or ask kids to name the instruments. He also read from the book “Roland, the Minstrel Pig.”

During “Over the Woods,” kids from the special education class were standing up and walking or running in place to the beats like the paces of a horse.

“That’s often where they prove successful,” said Brock, talking about the special education students in music classes.

Brock is at Orchard Hill Elementary Mondays and Tuesday mornings, Phoenix Elementary Tuesday afternoon and Wednesdays, and Talent Elementary Thursdays and Fridays. He teaches six sessions each day that are either 30 or 35 minutes long.

“All the teachers are just delighted to have the program back,” said Brock. Over the last nine years, Brock taught in the Ashland School District, at Cascade Christian School and most recently at Phoenix High School and Talent Middle School.

Rogue Valley Symphony has been partnering with the district since 2013 to bring music classes for third- through fifth-graders at the three schools.

Music program times and dates are Phoenix Elementary, 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9; Talent Elementary, 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13; and Orchard Hill Elementary, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.