First Performance for My Elementary Instrumentalists

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Today will be the first performance for my elementary instrumentalists. We title this performance our Performing Arts Showcase because we showcase the students who are participating in extra-curricular ensembles, such as our philharmonic, our musical theater class, and in the past, our young chorus, our older chorus, and our jazz band. This showcase also features our fifth grade instrument class.

A few years back, the school supported having the fifth graders learn the saxophone, clarinet, or flute in a group setting as one of their three general music classes in the seven-day cycle. We purchased instruments for the students to learn on and I taught them in a 17:1 ratio. As the years’ progressed, I was able to convince my colleague to split the class so she would teach the saxophones separately and I would teach the flutes and clarinets together. This made for an 8:1 and an 9:1 ratio. Much more manageable. Though a saxophone and clarinet grouping would be more logical, unfortunately, the saxophones tend to dominate with their sound. We were finding from the exit interviews we were conducting with the students that they were very frustrated to be in the same class as saxophonists. Therefore, we divided the groups this way and the exit interviews have proven that the students feel more successful with this saxophone and clarinet/flute division.

At the end of the fall trimester, we feature the fifth grade instrument classes on this showcase. They perform one of their previous recorder pieces they have learned in third and fourth grade. The students learn recorder in the third and fourth grades and then move on to learn the saxophone, clarinet, or flute because it has a natural progression in technique and breath. Today, my flutes and clarinets are performing “Skating Away” from Don Muro’s Introducing BAG. They played this on recorder back in third grade and were excited to be able to play it again on another instrument. In addition, I transposed the recording so that the clarinets are performing this song on E and D and the flutes are performing this song on D and C. This is a great way to have the flutists achieve that first challenge of moving between the notes D and C. The students sounded wonderful this morning as we warmed up and were very excited to show off what they have learned so far in class to the school and to their parents. Skating Away only requires two notes. Don does an amazing job with the original accompaniments that my students feel like rock stars every time they perform with his recordings. I used audacity to change the key of the recording, which worked very well. When they perform today, the 3rd graders will be excited to hear their recorder piece in another way.

My philharmonic is a compilation of students who are studying woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion in grades four through eight. I adore this ensemble because they are diligent workers. I love the variety of skill levels because I watch my young, novice players, learn so much from the older, advanced players. I also instill in my advanced players that they are leaders and their skills and actions shape the way the ensemble sounds and performs. Since my ensemble is small with an eclectic instrumentation, I arrange many public domain pieces for them. It works well and they feel very successful perform.

I thoroughly enjoy this program and this performance today. It occurs twice a year and the improvement these two ensembles experience from this showcase to the spring showcase is amazing.


Author: A. Burns

Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. This all-digital program, developed by Pearson in partnership with Alfred Music Publishing, will include lessons, resources, downloadable assets, and interactive musical activities to enhance any music educators' PK-8 general music classroom. In addition, she is the Past-President of Technology for Music Education TI:ME . You can find out more about Amy at her website:

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