The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 4, 2008


Carlisle’s music education reaches the high notes


Carlisle Choir Director Megan Fitzharris (far left, back row) stands with the Middle School Advanced Choir after the students performed in a workshop conducted by Dr. Ken Phillips (far right, back row) on March 29 at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association conference. Phillips served as an “artist in residence” at the Carlisle School on March 5 and March 26. The music educator presented various techniques in the workshop, and had the choir demonstrate the concepts. (Courtesy photo)

The Carlisle School’s music department is a busy place this spring. Besides class instruction, there will be performances by the five student bands, the four choruses, invitational performances at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) conference, participation in the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association (MICCA) festival, as well as individual student singers and instrumentalists participating in the state-wide Junior Districts competition. Three teachers: Angela Monke, Megan Fitzharris and Deana Saada-Smith are responsible for the many program offerings.

Music education

Carlisle music teacher Angela Monke plays the piano while Mrs. Comeau’s kindergarteners sing and march. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)


Music education begins twice a week for the integrated preschool and kindergarten, and continues through sixth grade. Elementary music teacher Angela Monke, who teaches general music to preschool through third grade, enforces musical concepts through the use of singing games, creating and playing instruments, moving, and composing. By third grade students have had four years of understanding rhythm, pitch and note reading. Other topics covered include jazz, African music, rock and roll, and composition, to name just a few.

Music is not taught in a vacuum, and the concept of interweaving arts with other subjects starts with the earliest grades. For example, during their study of African-American heritage, second- and fifth-grade students joined together this school year for a “song sharing” session, to sing African songs and play instruments. Other collaboration examples are the second-grade United Nations Day, Chinese New Year, kindergartners’ rainforest play, and the fourth-grade Mexican unit, all of which included musical components.

Carlisle has a long history of being in the forefront of arts curriculum. In Carlisle: Its History and Heritage, Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins notes an innovative cross-curricular program developed in 1965 by Jean Bernard, Amy Lapham and Janet Peckham. “These teachers developed a curriculum in which the literature, music and art of various cultural periods were presented simultaneously to illustrate the close relationship which those arts have always had to one another.” She said the team was asked by many other school systems to present their approach to this cross-curricular teaching.

Chorus begins in grade 4

Megan Fitzharris teaches the music curriculum for grades 4 to 6, and also teaches three sections of elementary music. In addition, she directs four choruses (fourth grade chorus, fifth grade chorus, middle school chorus, and advanced chorus) and the musical theater class. She says Monke has the students well prepared, “I wouldn’t have the program I have if it wasn’t for Angela.”

In fourth and fifth grade, the students receive one class of general music and one class of chorus. Skills developed through the choruses include reading music, vocal techniques, singing posture, learning melody and harmony, singing a variety of languages, and proper performance behavior.

The sixth grade is the last grade for general music classes, which, Fitzharris said, comes as a surprise and with some sadness to the students heading for seventh grade. Sometime in the past during a tight budget season, Fitzharris explained, general music for seventh and eighth graders was discontinued. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders can join the middle school chorus, audition for the advanced choir, or take the after-school musical theater class.


Instrumental music teacher Deana Saada-Smith.(Photo by Mike Quayle)

Instrumental music instruction begins in fourth grade with band teacher Deana Saada-Smith. Students are invited to try various instruments in the beginning of their fourth-grade year, eventually choosing the instrument that best suits them. Saada-Smith directs the fourth- grade band and teaches instrumental lessons. From fifth grade on students continue their lessons with a private instructor. Saada also conducts the Fifth Grade Band, the Symphonic Band (formerly the junior band), the Concert Band (formerly the senior band), and the Jazz Band.

The school bands do not just perform for proud parents in the fall and spring. For many years, Carlisle School band members have marched in the town’s Memorial Day observances. (Back in the early 1900s, the job was filled by the Carlisle Community Band.) The student musicians also play at the Carlisle School’s eighth-grade graduation ceremonies in June.

Saada-Smith has introduced composition to the fourth graders, who are learning to compose for their own instruments. She is also encouraging students to compose for the band. “One of my fourth graders went home and composed a symphony for the 4th grade band,” which the band rehearsed, she said. Saada-Smith feels strongly about students learning all aspects of music education. “If you are just learning how to play the music you’re not learning how to be a musician,” she said. Also new are lessons in conducting, to reinforce leadership as well as musical skills.

All students in sixth through eighth grades can perform in the Symphonyic Band. Concert Band requires an audition. Saada-Smith provides a package of material with several areas to prepare such as scales, playing a solo piece and sighting reading. “It’s almost like a private lesson,” she added. “I try to make it a positive experience.” Students can audition numerous times. “Each time they come they are improving,” explained Saada-Smith. Many students perform in both the Symphonic and the Concert Bands.

The Jazz Band does not require an audition. Any instrument can be included. “I just rewrite the parts so they can play,” she said. New this year is a Jazz Workshop, starting on April 6. Saada-Smith encourages anyone in grades 5 to 8 who plays any instrument to come, even if they are not in a band. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito