Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poetry - Concrete and Abstract Language

Warmup: Copy and discuss the following poem by Emily Dickinson (born 1830, died 1886):

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Students found definitions in the dictionary for words they didn't know. Then we talked about how metaphor is different from simile and found the metaphors in Dickinson's poem. Students found imagery and details in the poem that support the central metaphor, i.e. hope = bird.

Some helpful definitions:

simile: a comparison between two things using "like" or "as"

metaphor: a more direct comparison, not using "like" or "as"

cliche: anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse

imagery: words or phrases that bring a picture to mind

concrete language: specific, descriptive words based in the senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. Adjectives and verbs are often very concrete.

abstract language: ideas, concepts, not accessible through the senses. Words like truth, hope, justice, love, color, emotion, and transportation are all abstract. You know what they are, you can give examples of types of justice or types of transportation, but you can't touch, see, hear, smell, or taste them using your body. A lot of nouns are abstract.

It's confusing when we talk about feeling something, because we use the same word for feeling an emotion as we do for feeling an object. When I feel surprised it's a different beast than when I feel the warmth of the sun.

To help us figure out the difference, the class listed some concrete words for sounds that expressed abstract ideas like: Heart, hate, hope, heavy and happy. We got some great lists of very specific verbs for each abstract word. Individual students then made their own lists using as many concrete sense words for abstract words as they could.

No homework tonight.

Tomorrow: more work with using concrete language, plus alliteration and the exquisite corpse game.

6A Junk Band video

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Similes and Cliches

Warmup: Copy "Harlem," by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Students defined "simile" as a comparison between two things using "like" or "as." We identified the similes in Hughes' poem and talked about its meaning.

We also came up with a definition for cliche: an overused or unoriginal phrase that almost everyone is familiar with. Cliches can be true (that's why we repeat them) but poets try to avoid cliche. Why would we want to get rid of cliches?

I wrote a list of cliche similes on the board, which students copied, then rewrote to sound more interesting and original.

No homework tonight.

Poetry links:

About Langston Hughes:

Monday, September 28, 2009

6D Junk Band Video

6B Junk Band Video

Intro to Poetry

Homework: Write a concrete, descriptive poem about a food item, using all five senses, without mentioning what the item is. In class, students chose either grapes, carrots, Goldfish crackers, or graham crackers.

1. For the warmup, students copied William Carlos Williams' poem, "Nantucket."

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –

Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying – And the
immaculate white bed

2. Students wrote about what makes poetry different from other types of writing.

3. We had a class discussion about the poem "Nantucket" and poetry in general.

4. Each student chose a food item to write about.

5. Assignment: write a list of three adjectives (descriptive words) per sense for your food item. These will be used for your first poem.

Tips on concrete writing:

We're trying to avoid writing about things that remind us of other things and focusing on the thing itself. Just like when we were drawing Picasso's portrait of Stravinsky upside down, we're practicing looking at something differently so we can break through the assumptions we have about what words mean.

So, when you write about how a grape feels in your hand, you're not, for this assignment, thinking about the grapes you ate last night, or how much you hate raisins, or how your grandma has a bunch of plastic grapes in a bowl in her living room. You're writing about the experience you're having with THIS grape, RIGHT NOW. Make your reader hear the "squish!" and feel how it is to bite through the skin of the grape.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Junk Band Showdown

Today was performance day. All the students did a great job of making music out of junk. The performances were recorded to digital video. As soon as they are edited, each student will receive a disc with their performance on it to take home.

6th graders, you did something to be proud of. As I look at your graphic scores and watch your performances, I'm so impressed with the level of focus, effort, teamwork and creativity you brought to this project.

Homework: finish written self-evaluations, if you didn't do it in class. Rest on your laurels until Monday, when we begin... POETRY!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Junk Band Challenge - Final Countdown

"Oh my gosh, this project is due tomorrow and we need to practice!"
If you find yourself saying something like this, never fear. Ms. Blumenfeld will be in Room 103 during lunch and after school today, and before school tomorrow morning.

Homework: self-selected. If graphic scores aren't finished, take them home and finish them in time for tomorrow's performances.

Today's goals:
1. Rehearse 2 min. songs with all changes, solos, transitions.
2. Complete graphic scores.

Hey, how do you know if you did a good job? What will you be graded on?

I never grade projects for this introductory class based on how polished the final product is. I'm looking for three main things:


Effort covers things like how well you used your time in class and if you persevered through challenges.

Teamwork is all about the attitude you bring to the project, as well as how well each team member participated and how much they contributed.

Requirements are listed on the project sheet and include things like how many different types of instruments you used, how long the song is, if the graphic score was completed and handed in on time, etc.

I will ask each student to fill out a self-evaluation after the performances tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ensemble Work

Practice: in the circle, we tried out the body orchestra again. I'm hearing improvement in how well we're playing together. I suspect this is because everyone is listening more closely.

Classwork: Now that instruments are finished, the bands are practicing from their rhythm grids and starting to develop their graphic scores. We talked a bit about what needs to be featured on a graphic score: rhythm, pitch, dynamics, etc. When these are done, they'll look a bit like our listening maps - general overviews of the different parts of the music.

Tomorrow: more practice and work on graphic scores to prepare for performance Friday

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Final building day/Composition

Warmup: What do you think composer Tan Dun, in "On Taoism," wanted his audience to think of and feel while listening to the piece?

Classwork: Quick review of rhythm, graphic scores, due dates. Hand in maps of "On Taoism" and today's warmup. Two finished rhythm grids due at end of class period. Finish working on instruments and begin to play together.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Graphic Scores

A graphic score by contemporary composer George Crumb.

A Cantorinus (songbook) from the 1500s with an image of the Guidonian Hand, a mnemonic device used to help teach sight-singing.

Warm up: Each student came up with a set of symbols representing the different instruments and sounds they make in their bands.

Listening/looking: We watched an excerpt of a performance of Chinese composer Tan Dun's piece, "On Taoism," and students made a musical map of the piece. We also watched a short piece of the "Music From the Inside Out" documentary in which the Philadelphia Symphony musicians traveled to China, explored Chinese instruments, and listened to some of the sounds of everyday life there. In class, we discussed the relationship between the sounds we heard in the film and the non-traditional ways Tan Dun has musicians play their instruments. For example, the piano player was seen plucking the strings inside her grand piano instead of playing the keys. Some students talked about how they mapped the different parts of the composition to show instruments, voices, pitch, and silence.

Graphic scores: Bandleaders got handouts demonstrating simple graphic scores. We performed one all together as a class, then each band quickly came up with noises for another and shared it in class. We talked about how to show rests, or silences, how to show pitch, and how to keep time (spacing). The bands worked together to settle on symbols for each of their instruments and began thinking and talking about how to organize the page so the score can be read easily.

Finally, we took a quick look at some more complicated examples of graphic scores (two are shown above), as well as the oldest written song!

I found these examples here:

Here's more information about the Guidonian hand:

And more about the oldest song:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Junk Band Challenge - Instrument Building

Students continued to work on their instruments. I'm seeing a lot of creative approaches to making sounds as well as some beautiful-looking instruments. Bands also started composing basic rhythms to play together.

Next week we'll take up the noise vs. music question again as we study ways to compose songs from non-traditional sounds. We will continue to do some thoughtful listening and music mapping to get inspiration for the project.

Have a great R&R weekend!

instrument building photos

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Instrument Building

No homework for tomorrow, unless you have committed to bringing in extra materials for instruments.

Today in class: Everyone got together with their bands and started building their instruments. We reviewed the different types of instruments. Each band also received a blank rhythm chart so they can get started making rhythms together once the instruments are finished. Bandleaders gave Ms. Blumenfeld lists of extra supplies they need.

Tomorrow is an early release day. We'll spend the whole period working on instruments. Bands who finish building and decorating theirs can practice using the rhythm charts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Junk Band Challenge

Homework: Bring in instrument building supplies tomorrow!

There are already lots of great supplies, but we can definitely use more. Long cardboard tubes, plastic bottles, rubber bands, things to shake, metal bits and pieces... the possibilities are endless.

Today's class: Warmups for Monday, Tuesday and today were due.

Bandleaders received the "Junk Band Challenge" assignment sheet with all the requirements for the project, due next Friday, September 25th.

Each section came up with a list of instrument types to choose from when constructing their instruments. The traditional orchestral groupings are: brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion. The 6th graders came up with categories based on how their instruments will be played. For example, 6D has bangers, pluckers, strummers, shakers, blowers, squishers, loners (for instruments that don't fit into any other category) and maybe one or two more that I missed.

Each student received a blank rhythm grid and filled it out to create their own rhythm that their group could play together. Bands also experimented with playing two or more different rhythms at the same time and stringing all the rhythms together. When the bands had practiced their rhythm for a while, they were allowed to try it out on some instruments in the classroom. Some of these exotic instruments included:

didgeridoo - Australian, a long hollow wooden tube that you blow into
berimbau - Brazilian, a sort of bow with a gourd attached. You hit the stretched wire with a stick.
hand drum - Tibetan, a two headed drum made of wood and hide
claves - wooden sticks
toy cymbals

Tomorrow: instrument building and practice

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Noise vs. Music

Homework: all instrument making materials due Thursday.

Today's classwork: What's the difference between music and noise?

We started by listening to a mysterious recording. Some students thought it was pots and pans blowing in the wind, some thought they heard wind chimes. Actually, it was the Thai Elephant Orchestra! The photos above are of the elephants in action. From the album website: "The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant Orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier."

After listening, students shared their responses to the question of noise vs. music and discussed where we can draw the line. One class ended up inventing new words: noisic (closer to noise) and moise (closer to music). Another section just had a category in the middle for both. I don't think we've nailed down a shared definition of either, but we're getting to understand our thinking a little better.

After discussion, the classes took a listening walk around the school. Each person wrote down all the sounds they heard and tried to put them in either the noise or music category on their paper.

Back in the room, we discussed what we had heard and came up with a more refined group list on the board. It seems like we can somewhat agree that music is characterized by repetition of sounds (rhythm), intention (somebody meant to make it, or at least meant for it to be heard as music), and organization (not just random sounds).

Finally, we tried out some group music-making, using a rhythm grid to clap together.

Tomorrow: more music making! I'll be bringing in some unusual instruments to play. Students will get their own blank rhythm grids to fill out and the whole group will try out their rhythms.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Making Music

A homemade rubber band instrument.

Homework: From now until Thursday, students will be collecting items for constructing homemade instruments. Each student needs to bring in at least three items (a bag of many little things, like beans or nails, counts as one item). Each student has received a list of possible things they might want to bring in; they are more than welcome to bring things that aren't on the list.

Tutoring: I am changing my tutoring hours due to Wednesday morning meetings. I am now available Mondays between 7:45 and 8:15 am in Room 103. Students may also set appointments with me during lunch any day of the week, for some other mornings before school, and after 3:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Today's Warmup: Rhythm is the beat in music. If you could draw a rhythm, what would it look like? Try it.

Class work:
1. Body orchestra - in a circle, each student creates a unique rhythm using their body and the whole class "plays" together.

2. Listening & moving to music: We listened to Mozart's "Requiem," Lachrymosa dies illa, three times. Students used the written maps the first time, moved to the music the second time, then returned to their written maps. We had short class discussions about what we noticed.

3. Intro to graphic scores: students broke into groups. Each group had 1 minute to come up with a sound that they could make louder or softer, faster or slower, and higher or lower in pitch. Each group was also assigned one of four colors that corresponded to the colors in an animated graphic score which was projected on the whiteboard. As the score moved, the groups made their sounds according to what their color was doing on the score.

4. We talked a bit about the week's assignment and formed our "junk bands."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Art Hanging Day, plus Moving to the Music

Astor Piazzolla playing the bandoneon.

No homework over the weekend.

Class today:

Each class rotated the artwork on display in the rooms and common areas and hung a special exhibit of students' favorite pieces in Dr. Porter's office.

We wrote and talked briefly about how mapping music changes the way we listen.

We listened to a piece of classical tango music by Astor Piazzolla, then students moved around the room, mapping different parts of the music with their bodies.

Next week: more movement to music, introduction to rhythm, intro to music making, noise vs. music showdown, instrument building challenge

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mapping the Music

No homework for tonight.

Class activities: 2 journal entries and 2 homeworks due today.

1. Viewing of "Music from the Inside Out" segment about color - the musician interviewed has a rare condition called "synesthesia," which she describes as seeing colors in response to music, physical pain, or input from other senses. One of the students in 6D knew that the word synesthesia comes from a Latin root and means "confusion of the senses."

2. Making visual maps of music, part 1: board demonstration of how to use different lines, colors and shapes to follow along with the music. We listened to a piece by Shostakovich and experimented with ways to show tempo, rhythm, pitch and different instruments visually. Students shared their drawings and talked about how they decided to show different parts of the music.

3. Making maps, part 2: we listened to a Dvorak piece 3 times. The first time was to get a sense of the different parts of the music, the second was to hear things that might not have been heard the first time around and refine the drawings, and the third time was to add words to describe what the music was doing, just like in our writing exercises yesterday.

Tomorrow: Mapping the music with our bodies

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More Ways to Talk About Music

This is an image from the original manuscript of Beethoven's Symphony #7. Wow!

Homework: In journal, answer the question: How do I know that I'm getting better at talking about music? Journals with all the warmups and homework from this week are due tomorrow.

Today's warmup: Look at "Ways we can talk about music" chart from yesterday and write down a question for today's discussion.

1. The classes watched a segment of the "Music From the Inside Out" dvd in which symphony musicians listened to their rehearsal of a Stravinsky piece and commented on it. We listed some of the ways those musicians discussed music on chart paper on the wall, to help add to our musical language.

2. After introducing a new way to chart responses to music, by listing "words that describe the music" and "what this makes you think of; how it makes you feel," in separate columns, the classes listened twice to a selection from Beethoven's Symphony #7.

3. Class discussion started with each person sharing their question from either the warmup or the previous night's homework. In no particular order, and from no particular section, are some of the questions that came up:

- where does the inspiration for making music come from?
- what's the difference between noise and music?
- how does music tell a story?
- why does music make us feel emotions?
- where do the different instruments and their names come from?
- why does mood matter when we're listening to music?
- what kind of an instrument is the piano and who invented it?
- what did the first music sound like?
- how does music make you want to move?
- how does music bring up memories?
- what is your favorite genre of music and why?
- how does music help us think?
- what does music have to do with color?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Intro to Music

Homework: Talk to a parent or family member about music. Write down one question or comment to bring to class tomorrow.

Classwork: We listened to a short selection of music from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, "The Tale of the Prince Kalendar." Students "spied on their minds" and wrote about what they were thinking and feeling while the music played. Each person shared one thing they wrote, then had a class discussion about the music.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cityscape Project continued

No homework was assigned for the weekend, except for students who did not finish their Cityscape in class. Please complete these and hand in on Tuesday.

Classwork: 6B completed their work early and played drama games for most of the period, as promised. We tried several different games:

- Freeze action: 2 players are in the middle of the circle, pantomiming an action. Anyone around the circle can say "Freeze!," then tap one of the frozen players, sending them to the circle and taking up their frozen position. The new player then changes the action and the remaining original player goes along, developing the action until another player calls "Freeze!"
- Bus stop
- Change one thing (2 things, 3 things): partners stand facing each other and observe each other closely for about 40 seconds. Then they turn their backs, change 1,2, or 3 things about their appearance, and turn back around so their partners can guess what changed.
- Follow walks: partners stand one behind the other. The leader walks normally and the follower tries to imitate their natural walk as closely as possible. They switch. Variations: leaders walk as if going to detention, going to their best friend's birthday party, etc.

The idea of playing these games, besides having fun, is to help students develop essential skills such as listening, body awareness, group dynamics, physical coordination, observation, and creativity.

6D and 6A worked on finishing their Cityscapes for most of the period. Students who completed their work were given several different project options to work on.

The Cityscapes are beautiful! Every student took great care to show four distinct values in their pieces. These are going to look amazing displayed in the school. We will take down older artwork and hang this week's pieces as soon as all the students finish.

Have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cityscape Project

No homework tonight or Friday.

Today in class: We started the new Cityscape project. Each student drew three distinct layers of a city skyline using just one line per layer. Many chose to draw "cutout" shapes like windows and bridge arches, which will be colored with the next value up. On the board, I demonstrated how to map out the four different values used. The darkest is at the bottom of the paper; lightest at the top. Each student had also been assigned a color from the simple color wheel and instructed to use just one colored pencil for the entire artwork - no blending of different hues allowed!

Our goal is to finish all the coloring for this project by the end of class on Friday, then hang the artworks after the long weekend. We'll have to find a good location to hang all 88 individual skylines in line!

New Vocabulary:

monochromatic: from mono, one, and chroma, color. A monochromatic artwork uses a single color.

hue: the name of any color on the color wheel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Value Study/Cityscape Project

Homework: none!

Today's warmup: Students drew a simple value study from life of 3 forms with a light source. I saw some very carefully observed and wonderfully drawn work today. Some students went above and beyond, really taking their time to blend subtle gradations in value. Bravo and brava!

Classwork: We talked about the definition of "value" in the visual arts and settled on this: Value is the amount of lightness or darkness of a color, or the balance of light and shade, as in a drawing. We use value to create the illusion of 3 dimensional objects on a 2 dimensional surface, like a sheet of paper.

Then the classes took a walk to the cafeteria to check out a painting project done by juniors. The cityscape is an exploration of value through color. The effect of different layers is created by a controlled use of line to show the silhouettes of city buildings, as well as a gradual change in value, from darkest at the bottom of the artworks to lightest at the top.

Cityscape Project
1. Each student receives a sheet of white paper with 3 marks on either long edge. These are the starting and ending points for lines that define the silhouettes of different "layers" of the cityscape.

2. Each student is assigned a color. When they have drawn their lines for the cityscape, they will use colored pencil to color in four distinct values of their color, from darkest at the bottom of the page to lightest at the top.

3. When all the artworks are finished, we'll hang them edge to edge in order of the color spectrum. The edge marks help line up the different levels of the buildings from one student's paper to the next. Each sixth grade section is doing this project, so by the end we'll have 88 artworks to hang together.

Tomorrow: Begin drawing work on Cityscape.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Myth Illustrations Part Deux

Homework: 1. Finish ink line work and coloring on myth illustration. Copy descriptive paragraph, in ink, on index card.
2. Re-read course overview and make sure you bring all art materials to class Wednesday.

A reminder: We've started the year off very well and I'm extremely proud of all the 6th grade students for working so hard to succeed in a new school. You have been creative, open-minded, curious, and respectful in class. So let's not let things slide! Make sure that your full name and section are on every piece of work you hand in to me. On artwork, you need a full heading. It looks like this:

First and last name - 6B
Title of Assignment

Today's warmup: Pretend that your illustration is an ancient papyrus hanging in a museum. Write a paragraph describing where it came from and what archaeologists and scholars think might be happening in the illustration.

Today's classwork: Myth Illustrations. Pencil lines inked over and stray pencil marks erased; entire illustration colored with colored pencil; descriptive paragraphs copied onto index cards. Any unfinished work is due tomorrrow morning.

Tutoring: I am available Wednesday mornings from 7:45 to 8:20 am in Room 103, or by appointment.