Middle school music program tuning up for the season

Middle school music program tuning up for the season
December 27, 2016

For many music education students in the CU Boulder College of Music, the new semester means fine tuning lesson plans for this year’s CU Middle School Ensemble program.

The program, which begins Feb. 1, provides an extra-curricular performance opportunity for band, orchestra and choral students in grades 6 to 8, which this year will focus on multicultural and world music.

“Being involved in this program is a truly unique experience,” said Megan Wick, a doctoral student in music education who directs the program. “I am able to work closely with and mentor students at all levels. I love the fact that I can get to know and connect with college, high school and middle school students on a more personal level.”

Students rehearse on Wednesday nights at Nevin Platt Middle School and perform a final concert on April 28. The ensemble costs $50 and scholarships are available; online registration is open through Jan. 6.

The program was started in 2007 to provide undergraduate students with additional opportunities to practice their teaching skills with K-12 students, to help high school musicians learn about teaching, and to supplement middle school music instruction, said David Rickels, assistant professor of music education who is the program’s main faculty supervisor. Margaret Berg, associate professor of music education, and Leila Heil, assistant professor of music education, are also faculty supervisors for the program.

What began as one wind ensemble, has now grown to two wind ensembles, a string orchestra and a choir, serving about 120 middle school students in the Boulder area and involving about 25 undergraduates, he said.

The program is funded through the Hoover Fund for Music Education, as well as a CU Boulder Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program grant and a CU Boulder Outreach Award, which connects faculty research, teaching and creative work with community needs.

Rickels said the program has a unique focus each year in order to challenge staff and students. Last year, the program commissioned a composer to write a brand-new work for combined middle school-level band, choir and orchestra. This year, Russian, Irish, African, Brazilian and other world music take center stage, which allows middle school students and pre-service teachers the chance to experiment with repertoire they might not usually encounter, Rickels said.

Every Wednesday night includes full group and sectional rehearsals as well as music theory and improvisation instruction.

“It gives you the best preparation for teaching middle schoolers, because you are the one leading the rehearsal process for the song,” explained Caroline Vickstrom, a senior majoring in vocal performance and music education who coordinates the vocal ensemble. “Every second has to be well-planned.”

Ellie Dunlap, a sophomore who is the string ensemble coordinator this year, said her latest teaching strategy is to zero in on one skill and ask students to apply that skill to a section of a piece. “This allows me to give focused feedback and keep a quick pace in the rehearsal without feeling rushed,” she said.

And it always takes a positive attitude and knowing how to make learning fun.

“I find myself challenged by the sheer energy required to keep up with middle schoolers,” Dunlap added.

Wick, the graduate student, said teaching middle school means pushing students to improve while at the same time recognizing they can be unsure or afraid to make a mistake. While it can be challenging to encourage students to take that initial risk, Wick said she loves the “a-ha!” moments when a concept clicks.

“You can see it on their faces immediately, and it is so rewarding for both the students and for me,” Wick said. “They are so proud of themselves, and should be. It is wonderful being able to share an experience like that with them.”

For more information or to register for the program, contact David Rickels or Megan Wick at msemusic@colorado.edu or 303-492-1782.


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