Children need rigorous musical training early in life in order to be able to appreciate fully the complexity of a musical piece, feel comfortable making music with others, sing with confidence, and have the tools to read and follow a piece of music. The Willow School Music Program is designed not only to develop a series of fundamental musical skills, but also to help children achieve a level of musical literacy that allows them to learn music independently and to think of themselves as musicians.
To meet this goal, Willow utilizes the Kodály Method, a comprehensive, experiential approach to musical education, which provides a highly sequential framework to support student understanding, knowledge, and love of music. The Kodály Method is vocally based. It stresses musical literacy and focuses on repertoire that is multicultural and historical in nature. Students experience musical concepts first through their senses: listening, singing, moving, and clapping. Then through a process of teacher-guided deduction, they discover a new musical concept. Students continuously reinforce the new concept through singing, games, dancing, musical dictation, and sight singing. They deepen their understanding of each new concept by exploring how it functions in a wide variety of musical contexts.
In addition to the Kodály Method, the Music Program also incorporates elements of Orff-Schulwerk, an approach to teaching music which offers an array of percussion instruments, including glockenspiels, xylophones, metallophones, and drums. The music children make on these instruments serves a variety of purposes: large muscle control and coordination for younger students, visualization and aural exploration of musical concepts for older students, and most importantly, opportunities for multi-part ensemble playing, improvisation, and composition for all students in first through eighth grades. By the end of fifth grade, students have sung, played, and performed pieces from many different cultures in North, Central, and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. By the end of eighth grade, students have learned and performed a selection of pieces from each of the major periods of music history: the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Twentieth Century. Music in kindergarten through fifth grade employs mostly pentatonic and extended pentatonic scales. Beginning in the second half of fifth grade, the emphasis begins to shift to diatonic music.
All students at The Willow School attend music twice in a six-day rotation for forty to forty-five minutes. The entire Middle School student body meets once a rotation to work on three-part choral music and vocal technique. Each grade also meets once by grade level to focus on sight-singing skills and instrumental music. Two musical electives are offered over the course of the year to Middle School students. The first, “Mallets and Gongs”, allows participants to work in a smaller group on more challenging mallet percussion music of their choice. In the spring, a vocal elective is offered, “Popapella”, in which students can choose music from the pop, rock, and Broadway genres. Student choice and responsibility play a large role in the elective offerings: they choose the repertoire and assume much of the responsibility for the rehearsal and final arrangement of their pieces.
Willow’s students are given a wide range of both formal and informal performing opportunities. They present two concerts per year in December and May. In February, Middle School students organize and produce the annual Willow School Talent Show, in which students (K-8) share their talents with an enthusiastic audience. In March, students participate in International Day. Each year a different continent is chosen for artistic exploration. Students (1-8) learn music and singing games from the chosen region and then share them at an extended Morning Gathering. Middle School students also participate in a “Spring Sing”, during which they perform for senior citizens at two local senior centers in May. Students who study music privately have the opportunity to share their accomplishments at a music recital / potluck supper held in the spring. All students sing at the conclusion of every Morning Gathering. Students also perform music periodically throughout the year to enhance class presentations such as plays, research projects, or culminating events. These experiences, coupled with the concrete development of musical skills, enable students at The Willow School to develop confidence and pride in their musical accomplishments and to present themselves professionally and joyfully in public settings.