Music Teaching Memoirs: Creative Listening and Art!



Piano MCS (2)

For many years I ran my own business teaching piano at a small parochial school on the New England coast. In the days when money for extra “specials” faculty was tight, it was a win-win for both the school and for  myself. They got to boast “And we have Mrs. Green to teach piano to those who want it” and I had work. Eventually I was hired as the  official school Music Teacher  teaching grades 1-8 in classes of 25-30 children in each class. There was no music curriculum to follow and it was up to me to create one.

Our weekly group music classes were held in the big unused former science room, children sitting on the floor all wiggly as there were no desks. I requested the children to come with “a book to lean on”,  a pencil and a box of colored crayons or markers… “and their best behavior”.

Sometimes there were work papers to fill out on music notation  and counting. For some reason, kids LOVE to “fill in” papers and the room was usually quiet. A flat book would go on the floor in front of each child, they were given a paper requiring written answers to lay on top of the book as a writing surface and then fill in the blanks, eager to get the right answer in the language and notations of music.  (In those days, children were quite well-behaved and respectful of appropriate group interactions..25 kids on the floor was not a problem!)

Our most fun experience however in those large groups were singing songs and engaging in  a special class I invented: Creative Listening and Art.  In would come 25 children and they would be invited to lay on their backs on the rug after which I flipped off the lights. They then had to ” turn on their best listening ears” and get ready for something special.  I would have them (supposedly) close their eyes and be very quiet (hard to do when jockeying for your personal space, controlling elbows and knees). And then I would turn on  a special engaging piece of music (on tapes, on a TAPE PLAYER and then more contemporary…cds on a portable boom box).

In a second, the room would be still with all those listening ears, bodies quieting down in low light..and listen they did! To what, you might ask? To Vivaldi (“Spring” from the Four Seasons ), Bartok (strange and spacey driftings from the “Makrokosmos”),  Music from the Age of Columbus (Ayo Vista Lo Mappamundi  transl: “I have seen the map of the world”…they learned to sing it in Italian)), New Age Michael Genest (Crystal Fantasy), Bach in some of his wildman organ pieces.

The room was VERY quiet except for the music, for the children were totally engaged in the delight of moving notes, different instruments and musical themes. After the piece ended, they had been instructed to sit up “so quietly that we couldn’t even hear the papers rustle” as they placed them on the book, took out their markers and crayons and draw what they were hearing, feeling, imagining while the music was played once again.

They were SOOOOO busy, head downs, markers in hand, busily transferring the stories in the imagination stimulated by the music. Creative Listening and Art!!! Afterwords, there was a chance for kids who wanted to share to hold their cfreation up and tell us about it.

These classes were so much fun and so looked forward to by the children. The pictures where then taped up lining the painted cinderblock hallway with the name of the music, the name of the child and such a multitude of color and images! An art gallery for all to see!

It was a delight! And we enjoyed it as often as we could,  that hallway art exhibit until….until…..

… day the town Fire Marshall stopped by to visit the school. “Oh no, he said (ordered). “Those pictures must come down. They could catch on fire, being paper!”

I tried to remember the last time there was a school fire because of children’s papers being taped up for display outside of the classroom. But, well…the Fire Marshall was the boss obviously with no eye for Beauty… and so they came down, only to go right back up again on the same cinder clock walls INSIDE the classroom.

If there was a fire that was lit, it was only the fire of imagination, color and art in the minds and hearts of those children!

****This program officially went into the curriculum I later was asked to develop for the school’s accreditation. A teacher’s reward? = When I received a call from a parent to tell me that they had gone and bought a tape of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” to listen to in the car on the way to dropping her child off for school…at the implicit direction of her daughter in 2nd grade!

From Christine, The Piano Mistress

***some of us do more than one thing, being teachers. Please visit my Greening Spirit blog for inspiration and lovely photography: and my foodie blog:



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