“Everyone sit up nice and tall,” instructed Middle School Music Teacher Patricia Norchi as her Class 4 students began a gentle warm-up on the risers in Studio A, one of the new music classrooms on the ninth floor.
Straightening their backs and squaring their chins, they stretched their arms high in the air, shook out their wrists and rolled their shoulders. Then they bent forward like rag dolls, slowly returning to an upright position, one vertebrae at a time. “Proper body alignment and freedom from tension support excellent singing,” explained Ms. Norchi, who is also Coordinator of the Music Program.
The group prepared their voices too by practicing a series of breathing and humming exercises and singing short melodic motives while ascending and descending the scale. This initial work seeks to strengthen the singers’ breath control and helps them develop intonation, diction and other skills.
Once the students were ready, Ms. Norchi guided them through a demonstration of solfege syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do) with coordinated hand signs, which they had mastered in earlier classes. As their clear voices rose up, they shaped their hands into corresponding positions (such as in a fist; with fingers extended; or thumb bent). “Solfege is an outstanding teaching tool for developing sight reading, ear training and vocal technique,” said Ms. Norchi.
After an energetic few minutes, three students were chosen to lead the group. Taking seats facing their classmates, the trio executed a perfect sequence of notes and hand signs before letting a second set of volunteers take over with an equally impressive performance.
When everyone was back on the risers, Ms. Norchi initiated an ostinato, which they previously learned was a repeated melody. She divided the class into two sections and directed them in a robust round of do, re, mi’s. “Let’s use our hands to help us,” she added. “If my hand doesn’t move, your voice doesn’t move.” Beautiful sounds flowed from the students’ masked faces as they sang with confidence and feeling.
Transitioning to the next portion of the class, the students turned sideways in their seats and picked up their choir chimes, labeled by letter, octave and location on the staff. With sheets of music displayed on adjacent chairs, the group rehearsed the piece, “Etude in C,” intermittently ringing and damping their chimes and focusing on tempo, dynamic changes, chords and note values.
While reading music, hitting the right notes, and staying in time were challenging tasks, the musicians gave the activity their all and seemed to have fun in the process. “If you miss your part, it’s O.K.,” Ms. Norchi reminded them. “Just come in when you’re comfortable.” The class played continuously for several minutes, showing impressive concentration and ability.
The last part of this action-packed lesson centered on another indispensable instrument in the Class 4 music curriculum: the xylophone! Setting three in a circle on the smooth wooden floor, Ms. Norchi again asked for volunteers to help bring a song the class had been learning to life, a three-part piece arranged for soprano and alto xylophones.
The selected students took their places behind the instruments, taking care not to slump their shoulders or curve their backs. On Ms. Norchi’s cue, one student began to play, a second joined in, then all three performed their unique parts simultaneously, creating lovely percussive music enhanced with rich harmonies and vibrant rhythms. In the next class, every person will have the chance to practice this piece on the xylophone.
With another group waiting to come in, the students hurried to return the instruments to the shelves and help collect the sheet music and straighten the chairs on the risers. Watching her Class 4 students trickle out of the bright and airy classroom, Ms. Norchi couldn’t hide her enthusiasm. “This is my dream space!” she exclaimed.