Education feature: Making music of their own

After Alejandra Mulgado developed a taste for her music teacher's piano ballads, she got on YouTube and discovered classical pianists she quickly admired.

The sixth-grader at the Arts Academy at Bella Vista listens to classical composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Liszt and is inspired to make her own music.

CNJ staff photo: Benna Sayyed

Arts Academy at Bella Vista music teacher Sara Hennessy, left, directs the Rhythmic Joy student music group Wednesday in playing Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik."

As a student in Sara Hennessy's Rhythmic Joy student music group, Mulgado works with other fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to create original music using personal music influences and other academic concepts.

Bella Vista was recently selected for the New Mexico Music Educators Association's 2013 General Music Honor Group based on a performance by Rhythmic Joy. Hennessy said her group's short term goal is to go to the 2013 New Mexico All-State Music Festival in January.

Bella Vista music teacher Sara Hennessy uses a teaching style known as Orff technology to help her students develop a love and appreciation of music by letting them create and perform their own.

Hennessy was recently named Elementary Teacher of the Year by the NMMEA.

Developed by prominent German composer Carl Orff, the method encourages student improvisation and discourages adult pressures and mechanical drills, promoting self-discovery among students.

"My teacher says when you learn to play and read notes, your brain tells your fingers and hands what to do and it helps you be a better student," Mulgado said. "Sometimes when there are eighth notes in a song and you have to go like really fast it takes practice, but you get better."

Using xylophones, metallophones and various percussion instruments, Hennessy's students play and sing classical tunes and create their own music. The students also create original dance routines.

"They teach me the latest dance moves," Hennessy said. "I help facilitate it. I ask them what a dance move is called and then I tell them 'we're going to do that move for these beats.'"

Hennessy said performing their compositions in front of an audience boosts students' self-esteem and confidence and helps overcome shyness.

She said students are able to apply academic concepts to music as well.

"When kids are too young to be able to read all of the notation we use a lot of words to help transfer it to music," Hennessy said. "Instead of just using nursery rhymes, we use words from their classroom curriculum. It might be about science; it might be about math."

Fourth-grader Deandre Beam said he likes being part of Rhythmic Joy because it gives him another venue to play the drums besides church.

"I learn most of my drumming here ,which helps me in church because I can drum better in church," Beam said.

Fifth-grader Ethan Hohbein relishes the chance to sing top summer 2012 radio hits on Fridays at his school's Blessed With the Arts assembly. Hohbein said he has sung at the assembly twice. He said he also likes the instruments.

"I like that we get to use instruments that are really expensive because you usually don't get the chance to do that at other schools," Hohbein said.

Mykala Chavez, a sixth-grader, downloaded an app on her iPod to practice her music an hour in class and about 10 to 15 minutes at home each day. She said grasping the music is difficult at first but eventually becomes easier after sufficient practice.

"I like that it gives your brain an opportunity to think and learn different things," Chavez said. "It really helps with your test scores because you get to use your brain more."

Rhythmic Joy will give a music recital based on science in December.

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