Over the past three months I have put over 800 pieces of electrical tape on the recorders of my 4th and 5th grade students. I have heard every variation of “Hot Cross Buns” and “Gently Sleep” you can imagine. I have argued with students over the fact that they HAVE to play with their left hand on top. I have given up my planning time, lunch, and just about every free second I have to hear my kids perform their belt tests. I have a google slideshow with over 300 slides of pictures of successful students earning their next belt that they obsessively scroll through (and inform me if I have not updated it). My iTunes is full of squeaky renditions of “Old MacDonald” and “It’s Raining.”
And that’s not even the half of it. I’ve seen the jumps of joy when they earn their green belts, the excitement over learning about the mysterious pink belt (aka the made-up belt), and the disappointment when I have to say, “sorry, keep practicing.”
In the past three months I have seen my 4th and 5th graders come to life through the recorder. The most unlikely pairs of students have practiced together and earned their belts together. Some of them surprised me by racing through the belts to earn their black belt. One student has surpassed every expectation I had and earned her 9th degree (by performing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik). My incredible autistic students proved once again that music is truly for everyone by earning their belts with the rest of their peers.
For me, teaching my students the Recorder Karate unit reiterated the importance of instrumental music study for every single student. Some students loved it, and truly thrived, others were just happy to earn their yellow belts. And yes, a select few were not huge fans of the instrument, but guess what-- they all earned their white belt. No matter what belt they finished at though, they all left knowing they accomplished something. I heard goal setting in action-- “Next time, I’m getting my RED belt!” I heard collaboration in progress-- “No, no, this is how you play a low E!” I heard support for one another and celebrations when goals were reached, and of course I heard gossip-- the gossip of who earned what belt and who had their recorder taken away because they were trying to sneak a practice session in on recess.
This wasn’t my first experience seeing children come to life through the recorder though. When I traveled to Kenya via my Fund for Teachers Fellowship, a large part of my trip was spent observing the Link Up Recorder classes with students at many different primary schools. I was blown away by the focus that the recorder brought to these young students, many of whom live with so little. Here they are, living in a slum with almost no money, and yet the recorder gives them everything they want. For them, it is a gateway-- a gateway to the Ghetto Classics Orchestra-- a gateway to performing in Poland and for Former President Obama-- a gateway to a better life-- all from this cheap piece of plastic. For us it is no different-- the recorder is not just a gateway to band and orchestra, but a gateway for students to feel confidence and self-worth at a time when they need it most.
I am so thankful I was able to share the energy that I felt in Kenya with my students Britt Elementary. At the same time, I am in constant awe of the power that music has to connect us all to one another. Here we are, in Snellville, Georgia, working on the exact same lessons as the students over in the Korogocho Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. How incredible is that?
The recorder gets a lot of hate mail. Yes it is squeaky. Sure, it doesn’t sound very pleasant the first few times you play it.... But you know what else doesn’t sound very pleasant the first time you play it?
Every instrument in the entire orchestra.
I am utterly amazed at the way my students came to life from this $5 piece of plastic, the same way I was in awe of the students I met in Kenya who played the exact same instruments.
Thank you Recorder Karate for the many glimmers of hope you not only gave to my students, but to me as well.
*All student names have been changed for privacy purposes.