Saturday, April 18, 2015

CRESCENDO! - And Sites to Sigh For: edWeb & The Children's Music Network Blog!

Crescendo! Activities and Books for Investigating Music Fundamentals

Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL, happy to be writing you as April showers bring May flowers and Crescendo – which is the topic of the day! I’ll share instrument use and book ideas in this post. May’s offering will develop these ideas further with crescendo games and chants, as well as an update on a new recycled prop I’m in the process of introducing.

I’d like to share two excellent resources with you. It’s a teacher thing. We share! edWeb’s homepagage is a little daunting, but forge ahead to “Join Communities” and take a look at the numerous professional learning communities (PLC) available.

Over the fall and during the long winter, laid low by a fractured foot (not a good thing for one who teaches movement and music to kiddos), I enrolled in numerous, free, online webinars that kept me connected to the field, and expanded my knowledge base in profound ways. Along and along, I was able to identify engaging, consistently good, presenters that I would take anything from, including Michelle Luhtala, an illuminating Head Librarian and information services expert (Emerging Tech for School Librarians), and Shannon Holder (New Teacher Help and Tech Tools for the Classroom).

Commercial entities also sponsor communities. There is often a dis-connect when this occurs, but I’ve been impressed with the excellent webinars and follow up by all involved. Three recent webinars of note:  1.Early Learning Book Chats, sponsored by Gryphon House presented Strategies for Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Clarisa Willis. 2. Early Childhood Learning Solutions  through Frog Street Press promoted Fine Motor Skills…Write Out of the Box! by Marianne Gibbs (great for hand development and correct mallet position!), and 3. Music Together sponsors Arts & Music in Early Learning. Carol Ann Blank presented a very worthy webinar, Embedding Music in the Early Childhood Inclusion Classroom, which reminded me of the scope of the MT materials and their commitment to the field of EC music.  

All webinars are archived - and I’ve just touched on a fraction of the communities and offerings. CE certificates are sent out after attendance or after accessing the archived webinar and answering a few questions. The site is an embarrassment of riches!

Final notes: Each “Community” has a “Community Toolbox” with a dropdown menu. It’s easy to find and activate the webinar you want to explore. There seems to be no way to pause the proceedings, but that’s a small quibble. “Text box” comments, saved from the original webinar, are also available – and are a treasure trove of support material. One starts to recognize particular contributors of note. There’s someone in Florida named Barbara I want to meet! In fact, there are attendees from every corner of the globe – India, Japan, South American, Yerp (my family’s name for Europe), Australia and New Zealand, etc. Joining is easy. Enter basic info, your email, choose your communities – and feed your brain and soul!

The CMN Blog is my second resource gift. It’s guided by the considerable talents of Alina Celeste, a charming performer, writer and person. She’s a triple threat in the nicest of ways!

Alina Celeste!
On April 16, 2015, Alina and I launched a new outreach initiative. The official, hot off the presses announcement: “We here at the blog are excited to announce a new series! In tandem with new PIO! Editor Brigid Finucane, we will begin sharing songs from the extensive  PIO! archives once or twice a month. Songs will initially be drawn from the two All Songs issue and go from there. It is our hope that in providing sheet music, sound recordings, plus composer background, that we can share CMNs songs with the world!”  

Please visit the blog and take a look at our first entry. Save Some Trees, by Dave Orleans, ties in beautifully with Earth Day – though each and every day should be just that! A sidebar of “recent posts” makes the site easy to navigate. Keep a look out for the music and literacy articles by Liz Buchannan. Her website, “Antelope Dance” yields consistently great ideas and generous sound examples. Carole Peterson Stephens and I are frequently cross posted to the blog as well, so if you miss us on Pre-K and Sharing, you might find us on CMN!

And did you catch my special announcement? I am now the acting editor for the Children Music Network’s far reaching, biannual and newly digital journal, PIO!, which that stands for what we do at CMN – Pass It ON! The fall issue will have up to 50% free content – but we hope that you’ll like what we’re doing so much that you’ll join! A new Songs Library will be making its appearance in the very near future and other exciting offerings are in the works. I’ll keep you in the loop!

At home in March, basketball reigned supreme, but in classes, my kiddos were in piano and forte
exploration mode – and  my post from last month offers diverse strategies to support their learning. Like piano and forte, crescendo is a word in Italian, the language of music.  There is something so satisfying in my kiddos chanting that to me! 

Symbolic inter discipline sharing and math connections are part of the conversation as well - a topic
for another post! 
From Perkins' "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb." Love the illustrations!
Crescendo is easily experienced through creating an in-class rain storm with body music – the gentle drumming of fingers on the rug, followed by full hand use, getting gradually louder and louder and louder until you have CRESCENDO.  Stand up. Change levels.  Do it with full body. Rub palms together, transition to gentle clapping, perhaps to slapping  hips or thighs. Get the feet going……louder , louder, louder, Crescendo (arms up over the head. We know Italian, the language of music!). Make sure the progression is gradual and has purpose. A “class challenge” to listen without using voices usually does the trick.

Reverse the process to teach decrescendo – or another music word, diminuendo.  

Drums and Cymbals – What’s Not to Love!
It’s time to get out the big Remo gathering drum. By this time in the year, the kiddos have our class drum ritual down pat. We practice together while sitting on the rug, then groups of five (mas o menos) are invited up. They echo my syllabic pattern as I pat the drum and say “Hello, Drum!” (Hello, Drum!)  “Now let’s pet the drum.” We pet it, feeling the smoothness of the drumhead, listening for what it will whisper to us. “Now let’s give it a scratch. It’s itchy.” (We scratch the drum, listening to the change in sound.) We’re ready to make our own crescendo. I remind the children that we want to make this a loooonnnnnnggggg experience, not merely a moment of slamming their hands onto the drum and being done in a second. We’re musicians and good thinkers, so that’s what we do. I end with “Say, ‘Good Drum.” (Good Drum) – two thumps – and off they go, after they wave goodbye to the drum. Another group comes up.

I sometimes put out a row of six drums across the front of the room, a la the great Artie Almeida, as an alternative exploration. Nested drums, one bigger than the next, produce slightly different tones (the smaller the drum, the higher the sound. The bigger the drum, the lower the sound).
I assign each drum a family name, starting with the Dad Drum (biggest and lowest), and ending with the baby drum. The kiddos file up and get the drum in random order. We listen to the sound of each drum before we start. We are musicians and sound scientists. If there are lots of kiddos in the class (I’ve had over 35 in Kindergarten) I employ an extra 6th or 7th drum designated as a kitty or puppy.

The same greeting ritual is observed.  “Hello, Drum!”  Children at the perimeter, or on their rug squares practice crescendo with their hands. Everyone is active and engaged. Syllabication – playing the exact rhythm of the words on the floor while chanting – is a great literacy strategy

Sidenote: Al Perkins’  Seussical Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb is also a fun and effective gateway to classroom drumming. The illustrations are silly and charming. Full disclosure: I abridge the text.

What about the cymbal you ask?  And what are you thinking  - isn’t it LOUD? Of course! But the drama and gorgeous metallic timbre of the instrument is mesmerizing. Here’s one thing I do:  
I bring out my cymbal and play a long, drawn out, crescendo. Then I ask the children to get into a tight circle while holding hands and listen. As the crescendo commences, the circle gets larger and larger and larger with the sound until the circle is huge and tight. We’ve made our own sound waves!  No sound but the that of the cymbal and bodies moving. We repeat with decrescendo, and then contrast and compare. Who likes which best?

In smaller classes, kiddos play the cymbal with the mallet. In K classes, the teacher holds one cymbal and I hold and other,  suspended by a loop, and we cycle through the children fairly swifly – girls one week, boys the next. They trust they’ll get a turn. By now, they know that everyone gets to try everything.

One more thing to help things along: We make a “no crashing” promise. By this time of year, they’ve accepted I’m one hundred years old (at the beginning of the year, they’re incredulous. Now they just go with it), and I say if they crash rather than crescendo, it hurts my very old ears. The sound can also hurt their ears – and it’s no fun to be scared. Yes, some of my charges have sensory issues, and we, as teachers have to be aware and considerate of this very real issue.

Sidenote: This year, small, sterilized Chobani brand containers (thank you, Costco, and college-going daughter with exquiste taste) are coming to the classroom, and each child will receive two to make crescendos with. They can be rubbed on the rug, thomped, clopped together….lots of ways to make sound!  It’s been fun and satisfying to try at home, and I’m anxious to see how it  works out with large groups of thunder makers! I love sonic experiments – and will give a full report in May! 

Thunderstorms may elicit deep fear in the Pre-K and Kindergarten population, so listening to crescendos can start helpful conversations that address this. One thing I say is that the sound is thunder saying hello to us, but another helpful poem, Kay Cooper’s Boom! Bang! THUNDER ! really comes to the rescue! This hand rhymes can be found in her fantastic collection, Too Many Rabbits which includes clear, accessible, and easily shared science information. Themes: Animals, Weather, Nature, and Universe. Each rhyme is accompanied by gorgeous cut paper illustrations – making it a delight to peruse.

There are lots of lovely options. I’ll share two. If you have a book  to share, please put it in the comments below. My selections are available at most libraries. If you find, like I have, that it’s nicer to have repeatedly used books on hand, they can be found for $.01 – plus shipping, which is 398 times more than the cost of the book. 
For dreamier exploration, look no further than Listen to theRain by Bill Martin and John Archambault. The rich, onomatopoeic* – heavy text travels through the anatomy of a rainstorm, from start to finish, accompanied by James Endicott’s enchanting illustrations. * Yes ,I had to look up that word!

THUMP, THUMP, Rat-a-Tat-Tat by Gene Baer is perfect for noisier explorations. Students echo repeated text motifs with gusto. A passing parade, rather than a rainstorm, is the subject matter of the book. Flat and colorful illustrations are provided by Lois Ehlert. 

Carnival of the Animals – The Lion’s March
Better in French: Le Carnaval des Animaux - Marche royale du Lion

Thank you for joining me. Tune in next month for more crescendo ideas thundering your way. I’ll leave you with this YouTube by Victor Craven, a favorite of my 5-7 year old students. It’s a little retro – but how often do you get to combine Camille Saint-Saëns with a magenta-tongued, jaggel-toothed fanged and ominously throated sedentary circus lion – that opens his mouth on cue – to crescendo!

Chicago Families
Please come to Merit’s Storytime sessions – the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month. It’s free, fun, and facilitated by singers and storytellers Amy Lowe, Irica Baurer & me. Stories and songs start at 11am, and we end with instrument exploration and family networking. 

For Those in the Chicago Area
…Call on Merit School of Music! Our onsite school is in the West Loop. We work in the schools throughout the area providing band, orchestra, percussion, choir, early childhood, and general music instruction with project based units including Recorder, Music and Storytelling and Songwriting. We do great work! YoYo Ma is a supporter!

Professional Development!
I’d love to help your school or community blossom musically!  My specialty is music and literacy teacher training (with a dose of technology), singing games and dances from around the world, and more!  I’m a national presenter, writer and now an editor!! Full disclosure: I’m not 100 years old! People say I’m smart and funny – and that I’ve changed their lives (for the good). I live in the Midwest, but travel widely. I’m Gateways registered and IAC approved – at least for the next three years! See my contact info below. If you’re local, please look for my workshops through IL Children’s Home and Aid. 

And in the End
My posts are historically archived below. Click a link to read about Chinese New Year, Pete Seeger, Music and Literacy, Listening Locally to Musicians from the Midwest, Great Lakes and Ontario! Then Pass It On!

I am continually inspired by The Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region.

©2014 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *



  1. Wonderful ideas for crescendo, Brigid! As my teaching year is coming to a close, I will have to be patient (and remember) to re-visit the lesson again come Fall! Thank you for such creative lesson plans!

  2. Thank you, Carole! Lots more coming next month - including a rhyme I learned from you!! Act surprised.

  3. Another great post! You have so many wonderful ideas and I bet you are a favorite with the kiddos! One more thing, congratulations Editor Brigid!

  4. I am especially a favorite when I bring out the drum, Renee! Thank you for the congrats. I'm jazzed, excited, worried and hopeful all at once!


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