The Right Brain Initiative


Fine-tuning literacy (and much more!) at Woodlawn

February 16th, 2012 by Right Brain Team

EDITORS’ NOTE: We are pleased to introduce guest blogger Monica Hayes of the Oregon Symphony. For the past couple of months, Monica and several musicians and volunteers from the Symphony have been working at Woodlawn School in Northeast Portland with Pre-Kindergartners, Kindergartners and 1st graders in a dynamic residency that connected music to literacy, foreign language, and even a bit of science curriculum. Students deepened their understanding of character development, analogy, pattern, cause and effect, and developed their abilities to listen, ask questions, empathize and be a member of a community. All this was possible to accomplish in just a few dynamic sessions, due to full participation from classroom teachers, who build upon these experiences with additional instruction between sessions with the Symphony.

…There’s just too much to pack into one paragraph, so we’ll now let Monica break down what this looked like.

A Kindergartner at Woodlawn School creates soundthrough a French horn with the Oregon Symphony's principal French hornplayer John Cox. (Photo by Holly Renton)

When we arrived on January 31 at Woodlawn School to present our “Oregon Symphony Storytimes” introducing some brass instruments, we were whisked to the lower primary classrooms, to be greeted by smiling faces and eager eyes and ears. This was the second of three sessions we will spend with the students andstaff at that school.

As part of the Oregon Symphony residency, all 5 classes from Pre-K through first grade are attending the corresponding Kinderkonzerts at the Peninsula School venue after a musician visit and “Storytime” from each of the sections of the orchestra. The first session, in November, featured the woodwind family with Carin Miller Packwood, the Symphony’s principal bassoonist; and Karen Wagner on oboe. In April, they will prepare for the percussion Kinderkonzert, “A Treasure Trove of Tunes” through a final Storytime visit with percussionist Tom Sessa.

Oregon Symphony principal French horn playerJohn Cox used conventional and unconventional instruments to make sounds torepresent the individual characters in the book "Owl Babies," as volunteerLynne Buechler read aloud. (Photo by Holly Renton)

It was obvious that the teachers had been introducing their students to the instruments and the music of the brass family of the orchestra and the students were now experiencing these orchestral instruments for perhaps the very first time. These kids remembered our last visit and were so hungry to see and hear what we brought with us on this, our second visit, in preparation for the upcoming Brass Kinderkonzert. We noticed that they are very well prepared for our visits. Their teachers had been playing the CD we provided as a resource in preparation of Kinderkonzert performances. Tons of great books on all of the sections of the orchestra were made available to the teachers to use by the Right Brain planning team member and Pre-K teacher Aubrey Pagenstecher, through the Multnomah County Library’s outreach service.

John Cox (principal French horn) and reader Lynne Buechler took the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes through the evolution of the use of the French horn with some silly songs and sounds along the way. Lynne read three picture books as John played music to accompany each story. John used a variety of horn sounds, using a conch shell and a steer’s horn to depict the different personalities of the characters in the beloved picture book “Owl Babies.” The students learned that they can not only hear sound but they can also feel it.  He demonstrated this by blowing through a mouthpiece, sending sound waves through a garden hose stretched to the length of the horn (which is way longer than you might think!). On the other end was a common plastic funnel. The students felt the vibrations as the sound traveled through the length of the hose. All of the students were invited to try out the French horn, some found it was harder than it looked. They learned that their mouth needs to be able to make a certain shape, or embouchure, to make a sound.

John Cox first made his “homemade horn’s” funnelinto a hat, before using it to send sound waves through a garden hose, allowingthe students to "feel sound." (Photo by Holly Renton)

Meanwhile, Steve Conrow (trumpeter) and myself as the reader were greeted by the first graders with familiar smiles and raised hands. They were ready with lots of questions about the trumpet …the most sincere one was, “How can I learn to play a trumpet?”

One of our picture books, “Ben’s Trumpet,” dealt with just that question: what do you do when you want to do something so badly, you can just imagine it? Luckily, Ben is ultimately mentored by a jazz trumpeter and given a real trumpet to learn on. We talked in class about how to let people know your passion and then follow up on all you need to do to travel that path to make your dream come true. Steve also showed how sound travels through the tubes of the trumpet and what effect using the different keys and valves has on that sound.

As we were leaving we were so happy to say, “See you next week at the Kinderkonzert!”

The students arrived early to the Brass Kinderkonzert “Royal Rumpus” on February 7 to be greeted by our Brass Quintet. It was so nice to see their anticipation for this second of three concert experiences. They all were ready to sing “La Bamba” in Spanish with narrator Amy Haroldson, and that was a blast. They were also introduced to each of the brass instruments in the quintet. Their similarities and differences were explored, a number of fun pieces of music were presented through a storyline and they learned how an audience member shows appreciation of a performance. They are really getting to know each of the sections of the orchestra up close and personal!


Monica Hayes is the Education & Community Engagement Program Director for the Oregon Symphony. Later this month, she and the Symphony’s principal percussionist, Niel DePonte will work with 6th graders at Woodlawn to compose their own “soundscapes” depicting Ancient Egypt, using found objects as instruments and heiroglyphics symbolizing the notes they will each play in their performance.


Right Brain Team