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One of the items that I have discovered teaching elementary general music over the past twenty years is that Kindergarten is a good time to introduce opera. I have found that kindergartners are like sponges and are open to a variety of styles of music, opera being one of them. Therefore, during the winter months, my kindergartners study and move to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In addition, they study the opera, The Magic Flute.
In college, my major at Ithaca College was Music Education/Performance on clarinet. And you know if you were a clarinet major that you would be performing Mozart’s Clarinet Concert several times throughout your career. The Clarinet Concerto in A Major K622 is a beautiful piece that I enjoy performing whenever I get the chance. I have performed the Adagio movement in church more than I can count. The first movement is my absolute favorite movements of all time and I first performed it publicly when I was a sophomore in college. Therefore, when I decided to teach the kindergartners about Mozart, I started with the clarinet concerto. We moved to a recording of it that I performed with my good friend and excellent pianist, Tom Berdos. Since college, I have become proficient on flute and have studied Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G and have had the children move to that recording as well.
When it came to studying his life, I felt that it was best to study his childhood, as the kindergartners could relate to Mozart at 5 and 6 years old. Therefore, I read to them Ann Rachlin’s book titled, Mozart, from the Famous Children series. The kindergartners can relate to Mozart as many of them study piano and some are about to begin studying violin. They are surprised to see the clothes that Mozart wore at that age, they love that he has a dog, they are surprised that he could play violin in one day, and they adore that the Emporer thought that he could trick young Mozart by covering the keys of the clavier when he played.
We finish the study of Mozart by introducing opera to the students. We discuss basic characteristics of opera and watch an amazing performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute performed at our school over a decade ago by four members of a NJ opera company. The kindergartners can relate the story to fairy tales with good and bad characters, and they adore that they sing most of the opera. This opera company did a fabulous job when they performed this for our school because they included students as the animals, as some of the supporting characters (like the beast and the guards), and as the fire and water at the end of the opera.
I end the unit by assessing what the students can tell me about Mozart. I do this by using thinking maps. The classroom teachers use thinking maps to help the students organize their thoughts. The kindergartners have used circle maps to define the content, tree maps to classify content, double bubble maps to compare and contrast content, and flow maps to track a sequence. I decided to use a flow map to have the kindergartners tell me about Mozart’s life. You can see both flow maps below.
Finally, in the past, I have performed a piece by Mozart on the flute or clarinet. Or, if I am really lucky, I have one of the classroom teachers who have studied Mozart arias to visit the kindergarten music class to sing an aria for them. This one teacher who sings so beautifully and teaches fourth grade, once came into my classroom to sing an aria and tell the story behind it. She was amazing.
A bonus: In second grade, the students study Beethoven and many of them will recall what they learned about Mozart and compare and contrast the two musicians’ childhoods. It is truly fascinating to watch them do this!
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 the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com