The Music Doorway: Listening for Ourselves, by Darcy Hicks

 

The Great Gate of Kiev by Kandinsky on the whiteboard, Mussorgsky playing in the background
Kandinsky’s Great Gate of Kiev

I have been using my Doorways approach with the third and fourth graders at the Read School in Bridgeport – specifically, taking in the world through our senses, and deciding what to do with that experience. This is a useful piece to the Visual Literacy experience, which already relies on the visual sense as the way to process the world around us and work towards literacy.

I begin this Sound Doorway lesson by telling the kids about the Great Gates of Kiev. The story is that back in the 1800’s, the city of Kiev, Russia had an exhibition of architectural renderings which were design ideas for their city gate. The composer Mussorgsky went to the exhibit and was so inspired by what he saw that he composed a suite of ten pieces called Pictures at an Exhibition. A short time later Kandinsky heard this suite at a concert, and was moved to go to his studio and paint what he’d just heard: a canvas full of vibrant colors and strong shapes, entitled The Great Gates of Kiev.

We listened to Mussorgsky’s suite as we looked at Kandinsky’s painting, and talked about what sounds translated to what parts of the painting: “The big clank is when he made that yellow sun!” “When they repeat that sound over and over he made a pattern in his picture.”

Then, keeping the music on, I handed out colored paper and glue sticks. I encouraged them to really listen to the sounds and translate them into color and shape.

They loved it. And what was thrilling was listening to their explanations of how the music directly affected their decisions:

Once they had spent a good 30 minutes on their collages, I put up some Writing Invitations and asked them to put their work into words.

Writing Invitations
  • Write a poem (not rhyming). Describe the sounds and colors and shapes
  • Describe what you would hear if you could step inside your collage. What would you feel?
  • Write words to the music you heard. Look at your collage for ideas.
  • Your choice!

In addition to exercising their listening skills (in a really new way), and getting them to stretch their ability to translate one sense into another, they then showed me that they could put this into sensory language.

“I feel when I look in my collage I can feel relaxed, also calm. I hear high pitch and low pitch music and beats and the smooth beat passing along the instrument and to each kid, and the sound is going to the people here and they feel like a smooth beat and they’re relaxed and calm.”

I was especially drawn to this one, where a student labeled each shape with a reason for his decision:

The red wavy shape on the left says, “Red trumpet hitting the concrete floor with extended sound,” and the yellow triangle says, “Lightning filling the sky with yellow light strong enough to outshine the stars.” I was struck by the abstract thinking, and the ability to translate sound to visual art to words. It is surprisingly mature, and yet it was not unusual in these five classes of 8- and 9- year-olds. Music is truly powerful, and an entryway we all too often forget to use!

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