Return of ukuleles to Channing Hall
After going unused for a few years, ukuleles are being used to teach music curriculum at Channing Hall. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
When Channing Hall opened, students learned how to play the ukulele as part of their curriculum. Through the years, the instruments lay idle as it wasn’t offered. This year, they returned, a winning decision with the students.
“I had heard that in the previous years they offered it, but not for a while,” said Amy Lewis, the music director for kindergarten through eighth grade. “It’s part of our class where they learn music theory and appreciation.”
Lewis said that she currently is teaching it to sixth and seventh grade students and begins by showing students chords.
“All songs have chords in them and it’s a simple way of illustrating what we’re learning — what chords are in a song, why they are, how they work together,” she said.
Students also learn about scales and even put together their own simple compositions. As students learn songs, they give impromptu or small performances, going into a younger class to share what they’ve learned or performing at a teacher luau luncheon. She may even ask student volunteers to give a spring performance.
“These students are learning responsibility of being prepared and ready to perform on any day. They’ve learned how to read music, follow the director and appreciate music they’ve learned and play together,” she said.
While students have learned music symbols, notation and principles and the ukulele history, they also have learned to be organized, learned to keep time by practicing and work together as a team to play together, she said.
Lewis teaches the general music class so students learn about music composers, music history, music careers — from those who play in a symphony to music engineers who add music to films.
“I encourage students to listen to music all around them. Schools are losing more and more in the arts and music, so I make this applicable to other subjects in the curriculum. Most students know Pythagoras for his theory in math, but he was a big player in music in discovering the foundations of tuning and how and why it works. With science, we talk about the frequency and pitch with different size instruments, and when we play, we use motifs and themes which can relate to the same things in English class,” she said.
She said through learning the ukulele, some students have blossomed and become more engaged.
“For example, one student may struggle in other areas and subjects, but ukulele has become a passion and it helps him understand other subjects. They all learn that all the chords have a particular place and it’s the same when they write an essay — there’s an intro and from there, each paragraph needs to be in a certain order,” she said.
She also lets them know that music sets the mood, from hearing ukulele in background music of a movie to some of the works of modern composer John Williams, which sets the mood or tone. One recent assignment asks students to play music to a child’s picture book, then change it to give another example of how music can affect the mood of the story.
“It’s really cool when students realize that music is applicable and relatable to other subjects they’re learning about and to their world. Music is fun and they’re gaining a greater appreciation for it,” she said.