Gulf Insider speaks to Alicia Pashby, Elementary Music Teacher and Scott Rogal, Music & Band Teacher at American School of Barhain (ASB).
The beauty of music is that it connects people with one another and to one’s self. We recently sat down with two of the American School of Bahrain’s music teachers to learn more about their passion for music, why it’s essential in the early years of childhood, their music programme at the school, and their 30-year plan.
Why is music essential for elementary school?
I think that music is essential because music can help us understand the world around us. It can create a way for children to find themselves. Especially for elementary school, the children need something to look forward to. They need a reason to get up every day… I was one of those kids who got out of bed because of music.
We are working towards the 30-year plan, and we believe that it’s really essential that children be tuneful, beatful, and artful. This is building the foundation for them to be able to match pitch and sing for their whole life.
What is the 30-year plan?
The idea of the 30-year plan is that in 30 years, the philosophy of being tuneful, beatful, and artful permeates within our students’ lives.
Being tuneful means that they can match pitch, sing melodies with their voice, and think melodies in their head. It means that they would be able to start singing and do so beautifully. To be beatful means that they’re able to keep a steady beat in groups of twos and threes. So, we really focus on that, starting with the youngest kids. The artful aspect is that they appreciate the beautiful and artistic qualities of music.
How do you incorporate movement into the music programme? Why is it important?
I think of movement as our reason for being. It’s so important because movement is not part of a lot of our day these days, especially in a school setting. Kids might move from room to room, but they might end up in a stagnant position for a lot of the day. Movement in music is how we express what we hear. It is also essential to understanding beat.
With the younger children, we have something called ‘movement exploration’ which is using different prompts to get them to explore different types of movement and tempos. This helps them explore the artistic expressive qualities in the music. We also do traditional folk dances, which are very fun for the kids and get them get them feeling the beat in their bodies.
What instruments do the students play at the elementary level?
First and foremost, the voice instrument. It is the most important initial instrument and commonly overlooked by a lot of people in the general public. It’s important to normalize singing for the younger children. So, for children in Pre-KG, KG1, KG2, the most focus is on their voice instrument and as well as on moving their bodies.
Then, we add Orff instruments, percussion instruments, recorders, eventually ukuleles. We are working as an ensemble in preparation for Grade 5, when our Band Program begins.
Can you tell us about the specific curricular programmes that you’re running?
We do a lot of singing and music making with instruments and with movement. In addition to that, with the students in Pre-KG, KG1, and KG2, we are running a programme called ‘First Steps in Music’ which is an eight-part musical “workout”, that was created by Dr. John Feierabend, one of the leading authorities on music and movement development in childhood. This is the technique that permeates my teaching and where the “tuneful, beatful, artful” philosophy originated. It mimics language learning.
When they’re in Pre-KG, KG1, and KG2, we are trying to foster, celebrate, and bring out the musical person and normalize being musical. Once they get to grade 1, they are on a journey towards becoming young musicians and they’re starting to become musically literate. Those skills are being supported through beginning to read music and playing Orff instruments, recorders, and ukuleles in an ensemble.
If the musical person is not fostered first, the musician is not going to be a musician. They’re going to be a notation reader. So, this is kind of the overarching the summary of the philosophy.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
At the end of February, we’re going to start term two of Extra Curricular Activities (ECA). I’m going to continue with the Elementary ASB Singers which is for students in Grades 2-4. Any child who wants to join, can join. We’re also going to try to beef up our secondary choir. So, any student in Grades 5-10 who wants to join the ASB Show Singers, that’s going to be on the horizon here.
Another passion of mine is to create choirs and a community within the choir. We now have a small choral programme growing here at ASB.
What makes the ASB music programme different than other music programmes in Bahrain?
All of the students from Grades 5-9 take music and they all get an instrument to play, be it a trombone, flute, drum set, saxophone, or trumpet, and it’s not an extra cost. Music is a regular part of their day. Not many schools in the world have musical opportunities like we have at ASB.
What level of musical skill can we expect from an ASB graduate who was part of the programme since kindergarten?
I think the students at that point would have an instrument for life. I still play my saxophone with friends and with family and my wife has just learned the violin. I would hope our students would be able to continue with their music and play with friends, maybe play in a community band or orchestra and I hope they have their instrument with them forever.
ASB music students just recently showcased their skills at the winter music concerts. Any other exciting activities you have in store?
The kids are continuing to learn and we still practice virtually, so the students are practicing at home. We’re also practicing here at school. We’ll have our Spring Concert in May, and as students improve, each performance is a bit more sophisticated and enjoyable.
When did your passion for music start?
I think through the end of elementary school and high school. I was involved in lots of different activities, but I really enjoyed my time in music and I was encouraged by good teachers and so I kept going. I really loved going to band practice, playing my instruments, being with friends and making music. I still do!
Was that what inspired you to become a music teacher yourself?
I think it’s quite a perfect combination for me. I really enjoy being around kids and I love music, so it’s a pretty natural thing for me to be doing.
The joy of teaching, in a nutshell, is to see your students grow as people and grow as musicians. I’m really lucky because it’s so obvious. When I first hand them a trumpet, they don’t even really know its name or what to do with it. A couple years later, they’re sounding really good and in a group with all the other kids. Knowing that I’ve taught them how to play those instruments is very, very rewarding.
To know more about ASB’s music programme, call 17211800 or visit the ASB website.