By Loretta Kennedy, Eden II Coordinator of Extra Curricular Activities
The joy of music has been with me my entire lifetime. My father played guitar and sang happily many evenings after dinner and at every family get together. When I was first introduced to the piano at age 8, I quickly learned that I had neither my father’s gift to play by ear nor his ability to sing in tune. But the world of piano lessons and reading music has given me a leisure activity like no other. It is a great de-stressor and has enabled me to meet other musicians, perform for an audience, and make music with my family.
As a classroom teacher at our Granite Avenue school, I was inspired to share my passion with my students. Always looking for ways to increase their socialization and recreational skills, I thought playing an instrument might be a great addition to their repertoire.
Music is organized and fun. And because the expression comes from within, you don’t need verbal ability to learn it or play it. So I set out with high hopes for my first two piano students.
I wondered if one day they, too, would experience the sense of accomplishment from perfecting a song or playing on stage for oh-so-proud loved ones. Learning to read music begins simply – one note, one beat at a time. I bought a primer book in a music series that had many visual cues and began to teach my students to sight read. Because our learners sometimes need more repetition and practice, I added some discrete trial tasks and provided cues, error correction and reinforcement consistent with ABA teaching techniques. Lessons were held for twenty minutes three times a week and consisted of some theory and some practice. The students progressed faster than I expected! They were sight reading notes, playing with both hands and correct fingering, keeping time, learning new songs. The possibilities seemed endless! The time at the keyboard was, by far, my favorite time of the work day. And I wondered if it was theirs too.
More students followed as did a new position that afforded more time to teach piano. For some students came a need to adapt my materials and the keyboard.
I introduced a play by number system for those who had difficulty reading notes. My new mission was simple. Get kids playing no matter what it takes! There are now 13 kids playing piano across 3 school sites and 1 participant playing in the adult program. My new goal is to get more teachers teaching and more kids playing. I’ve started to develop a teaching manual that can be used without any prior knowledge or experience reading or playing music.
Teachers can learn along with their students – an added perk! The Eden II performing arts recital has given all of our piano students, along with the dancers and theater group singers and actors an opportunity to shine. As I watch off stage and follow, anxiously, each note that is played, I know that families and friends are beaming with excitement and pride.
With each year, boundaries are pushed. And this year is no different as some of our pianists team up with a peer vocalist to belt out Broadway show tunes. A show not to be missed!
Teaching music to Eden students has been my greatest career joy. And I’ve stopped wondering if the students are enjoying it. Their smiles, low rates of challenging behavior, and eagerness to come to piano when they see me, is all I need to know.