Kids learn folk songs, instruments in elementary school class

first_imgArts & Culture | Education | Juneau | SyndicatedKids learn folk songs, instruments in elementary school classDecember 10, 2016 by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News Share:Gastineau Elementary School music teacher Patrick Murphy leads his class in song. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)Guitars, mandolins, ukuleles and banjos are common enough at bars, coffee houses and folk festivals. But one Juneau music teacher has made them the standard for his elementary students at Gastineau School in Douglas, which is part of Juneau.Audio Player Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Gastineau student Derrick Price sings and plays mandolin during Patrick Murphy’s class. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/ CoastAlaska News)Patrick Murphy leads a group of energetic third-graders through a folk standard, pointing out chord changes and strumming styles.He weaves his way around the classroom, checking that instruments are tuned and the right lyric sheets are out. The kids quickly become focused.“This is silly, but the most difficult thing as a teacher is to get them to sit down. If I can get them seated with their gear, then in 30 seconds, we’re making music,” he said.These kids pick up instruments pretty soon after the school year starts. That’s because Murphy wants them to get a feel for the songs before they get to the technical side.“I do that later. I kind of have this belief that if they can make music first – sing and play – then that reference will help them when they start reading stuff on the staff and on the clef, which we do,” he said.Students focus on guitar the first year. But the classroom walls are hung with other stringed instruments. By the end of third grade, many are ready for something new.“In fourth or fifth grade, I kind of just let them grab an instrument. And they turn to the chord chart and they teach it to themselves. And then I teach them their role in a string band. The banjos have the thumb picking and the mandolins and ukuleles kind of chop with the snare drum and that sort of thing,” he said.All this is very different from Murphy’s own schooling, which was mostly classical.“I was a trained bass player. I went through the conservatory system. And it just about taught the music out of me. … And I met a bunch of guys who were cowboys. They liked to sit around campfires and play guitar,” he said.Patrick Murphy works with students Quinn Andel, Eric Holberg and Andrew William during a class at Gastineau School. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)“And I asked one of my friends to teach me. And he said, ‘I’ll teach you how to play guitar. Two rules: You can’t write anything down and you can’t ask me any questions.’”Those rules forced him to figure things out. Pretty soon, he was teaching himself.Murphy grew up going to a church that had lots of acoustic music. That included songs in the folk tradition, some from decades ago.So, how does he interest students in old folk songs in 2016?“Kids like history. They like to hear stories that are bizarre. The story of John Henry, the third-graders love that. Why would he bother to compete with a machine? The absurdness of the human spirit sometimes to a young kid is really entertaining,” he said.Still, some come to him with more recent songs. It’s not so much Bruno Mars or Lady Gaga, but pop classics, such as “Yellow Submarine” or “Lean on Me.”Some end up in the class songbook, which he updates every year.Murphy used to teach middle-school band. This and other schools where he’s worked have had many years of stand-up student choirs. He’s not critical at all.“That kind of approach is great. That high-art music takes a certain discipline to play and work on that. But I guess, from my perspective, I want them to have fun and I want them to do it on their own,” he said.And they do. Murphy starts some days with a full musical assembly in the school commons, where everybody gets a chance to play and sing.It’s a cacophony and it’s not always pretty. But the kids – and teachers — have smiles on their faces.Ruby Rivas and Mila Hargrove discuss a song as teacher Patrick Murphy leads a music class at Gastineau Elementary School in Douglas. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/ CoastAlaska News)Share this story:last_img read more

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