Play on Year 1
Forget hammering saucepans and belting out ‘Happy’ in the shower! Year 1 have made their own musical instruments using recycled objects and micro:bits, before holding a concert at Woodstock.
It was all part of Year 1’s latest Unit of Inquiry, ‘How We Organise Ourselves’, exploring the central idea: Music brings communities together. As Ms Christofa said, “Because of the tough times that everyone is going through due to COVID-19, we wanted to make our Wenona community feel happy by bringing people together through music. We decided to make our own instruments using recycled materials and our coding skills. We then held an outdoors concert, playing the music we’d composed on the instruments we’d made for all of Woodstock to enjoy!”
The students pursued the following lines of inquiry: How is our community connected through music? What is the function of musical instruments? And how does music have an impact on a community? To kick start their learning, Year 1 watched Landfill Harmonic, a film about the universal language of music and its capacity to bring hope and happiness to one of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.
For most of the 40,000 residents of Cateura in Paraguay, a musical instrument is an unattainable treasure. Landfill Harmonic is the story of 30 young schoolchildren who form part of The Cateura Orchestra of Recycled Instruments, playing violins, cellos, saxophones, flutes and drums, all crafted from recycled rubbish. Built in the shadow of a massive landfill site, the community of Cateura survives by selling recyclable materials collected from trash. There are no formal services here, and educational opportunities are extremely limited. It is the sons and daughters of the gancheros (recyclers) themselves who make up The Cateura Orchestra of Recycled Instruments. The children have learnt to read music and tap out rhythms among the flies and stench of the rubbish tip, using instruments fashioned out of the flotsam and jetsam found here. For example, the body of a cello is made from an oil drum. The tailpiece of a violin is actually a bent kitchen fork. A waterpipe has been transformed into a saxophone and a discarded X-ray film serves as a drumhead. Oven trays, paint tins and old fence palings have all been repurposed into different musical instruments. And it’s enabled the children to master music like Pachelbel’s Canon, bringing much needed joy, acclaim and pride to their community in the process.
Year 1 were transfixed by the film. “I wonder how they made instruments out of rubbish,” said Amelia. “I wonder how you make a violin and a cello,” said Olivia. “I wonder how communities join together,” said Ruby. “I wonder why music gathers lots of communities. And I wonder how communities work,” said Miranda.
Year 1 then set about exploring instruments from different cultures around the world. They looked at everything from digeridoos to djembes, bhodrans, maracas, ocarinas, xylophones, sitars, chime bells, bagpipes, lutes, kotos and harps. And they thought about how these instruments are played and what sound they make. They then sorted the instruments into different categories such as countries, cultures and instrument families (wind, percussion, string etc).
Ms Christofa then challenged Year 1 to choose an instrument that fascinated them and find out how the sound travels from the instrument to our ears. The students had to write an explanation and also create an EDU presentation to bring their explanations to life.
Then came the really fun part! Using recycled materials (think cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, milk cartons, glass jars, cans, bits of string, old mirrors, buttons, pegs and tin foil) Year 1 were tasked with designing and building their own musical instrument.
To inspire their creativity, Digital Learning Leader, Mr Kolbe arrived at Woodstock with a variety of pianos that could be played using a different part of the body. There were piano stairs, a piano bridge and even a giant cardboard piano! It really forced the children to think outside the square.
The students then learnt about circuits and how they work using a micro:bit!
Then it was time to get musical and compose their own tunes, which they then coded into their micro:bits. This involved a lot of logical thinking, commitment and the ability to bounce back when their first bit of code didn’t work. As most coders – and Mr Kolbe – would say, there are two solutions to every problem – then a third that actually works!
Using their problem-solving skills, the students persevered to create their own music, before attaching their micro:bits to their musical instrument creations.
Fortunately for Year 1, the sun was shining on the day of their concert. And even Dr Scott was able to come along and be part of the audience, which made it extra special for them. She declared their music playing a triumph!
According to research, playing music makes children smarter as it enhances their cognitive skills while fostering their creative thinking and their ability to focus. What Year 1 discovered is that playing music also makes them happier. And it also brings communities together, bridging gaps, connecting people and strengthening bonds.
During the current pandemic, we’ve seen people in Italy and Spain, using music to bring their communities together, with balcony concerts and rooftop singalongs. Year 1’s gesture of commonality through their concert was a great way of bringing light and laughter to lunchtime at Woodstock.
Well done Ms Christofa and Mr Kolbe. A huge thank you to Head of Music, Ms Gutierrez for her work in helping the students compose their music and organise their concert. And of course, ‘play on’ Year 1!