The rhythms of West Africa, created by Tiya Karaus’ second graders, filled the chapel.
It’s a chance to expose students to different art forms and give them opportunities to interact with experts in artistic fields. They get to see the arts in action and start making connections between themselves and the outside world.—Tiya Karaus, second-grade teacher
Some students took turns on dundun drums while others danced, each taking a part in telling a story. The activity was part of the Artist in Residence program at the Lower School, which brings musicians, painters, photographers, dancers, and more onto Rowland Hall’s McCarthey Campus each spring. For Tiya’s class, the artist was dancer and drummer Déja Mitchell, who was instructing the students on the kuku rhythm, a celebratory call-and-response drumbeat that, in Guinea, is used to signal the return of women to the village from a successful fishing outing. Opportunities like these, Rowland Hall teachers agree, are a great way to deepen student learning and connect them to the larger community, which is what makes the Artist in Residence program so special.
“It’s a chance to expose students to different art forms and give them opportunities to interact with experts in artistic fields,” said Tiya. “They get to see the arts in action and start making connections between themselves and the outside world.”
In addition to West African drumming and dancing, this year lower schoolers took part in learning about photography with artist Kirsten Hepburn, and explored modern dance with a performer from Tanner Dance. The arts are an important part of a Rowland Hall education from the earliest stages of learning. Music and visual arts are woven into the curriculum in Beginning School classrooms, and regular music and art classes are part of the weekly schedule in the Lower School. In the middle and upper schools, students are given multiple opportunities to take part in a variety of artistic endeavors. The arts enjoy a place of prominence at the school not only for the joys they bring, but also for the lessons they teach. Music, dance, theatre, painting, and other means of artistic expression give the students windows into experiences that they may not otherwise be privy to, and also provide mirrors to their own experiences and how they connect them to the world. They also are a way of learning that feels natural to children.
“The whole child is a musical child, is a dancing child, is an artistic child,” said McCarthey Campus music teacher Susan Swidnicki. “That’s part of being human.”
Part of the human experience for Tiya’s students also involved learning about the people on the other side of the world who invented the rhythms they played and the dances they performed. Along with the music and dance, Déja shared with the class the history behind the rhythms and dances, and how and why they evolved. “It’s a way for them to connect with another part of the world and get a deeper appreciation of other people and cultures,” she said.
We live in a very noisy world. For children to do that kind of focused concentrating, listening, and responding is really important to their learning.—Susan Swidnicki, music teacher
A deeper cultural competency is just one of the additional benefits Tiya’s students are gaining through the Artist in Residence program. Self-control and cooperation are two other skills they have developed as they played the drums and learned the dances. Every student will tell you the kuku rhythm isn’t just about where you strike the drum, but also how hard you hit it. You have to have the balance. And you have to be listening to what others are playing, and watching the movements the dancers are making, in order for everything to work together.
“We live in a very noisy world. For children to do that kind of focused concentrating, listening, and responding is really important to their learning,” said Susan. “It’s a great lesson in how to get along with others collaboratively and joyfully.”
The students also gain confidence in themselves, not only as artists but as people. After all, drumming is not easy. But if you mention the term “kuku” to them, they do not hesitate to show you. Dozens of hands instantly start drumming on tables.
“It’s a full-body experience for them. It’s hard work when you are little, and you have little hands,” said Tiya. “As one student said, ‘I love this so much, but my hands are so tired.’”