Cross-Curricular Instruction in the Choral Classroom
By NAfME Member Andrew Bruhn
One of the greatest strengths of music education is that it is innately cross-curricular! Each piece was written in a particular time and place by a particular person, all of which reaches into other subject areas. What was happening in history when such-and-such a piece was written? The rhythmic elements of music relate to math. I teach in a Christian school, so the spiritual element relates to their Bible classes, and all of life, really! The actual act of singing is profoundly physical, and my students love to impress me with their scientific knowledge of such things as the “uvula”! Music is a powerful tool of integration, and serves to bring people together into a strong community.
Working on music for a performance-based class is unique, because we work on several pieces over the course of many weeks in which we are constantly learning and refining our performance of the music. As many choral directors, I strive to program various styles, time periods, and cultures in our repertoire. Being intentional about those points makes not only for a well-balanced program, but also for quality cross-curricular instruction.
This year my HS Choir sang Riu, Riu, Chiu in Spanish; Molihua in Chinese; Exultate Justi in Latin; among others! Learning these pieces has definitely strengthened the bond the choir shares with the other subject areas in our school. I spent much time with one of the Spanish teachers practicing Riu, Riu, Chiu. The students enjoyed learning this piece, and especially reinforcing the language that many of them are studying! Our school is blessed to have a thriving international program. I have 5 Chinese students in my HS Choir, and they loved teaching ME and the choir the pronunciation and meaning of Molihua. Several international students came to our concert just to hear that piece! It served to bring our community together.
Below is my general outline for teaching Riu, Riu, Chiu (and most foreign) pieces to my choirs. Before introducing it to the choir I spend hours studying the score, and practicing the language. I need to know every detail of the music intimately before teaching it to the students.
- I began by playing a recording of the piece for them while they followed along on the music.
- We learned the melody together slowly on the syllable “No” in order to learn the notes and rhythms
- Then I would speak the Spanish slowly in the musical rhythm (in small sections), and the choir would repeat. Then I would sing it, and they would echo me.
- We did this process beginning with the phrases that repeated often (the refrain), then we dove into learning the verses with the same teaching/learning technique.
- Over the course of several weeks we learned the entire piece!
- We spent time in class talking about the translation. These moments, although not musical, will help the students gain a better understanding of the meaning of the piece, and in turn perform it with more meaning. The antiquated Spanish also resulted in several inside jokes, which is always fun!
Each piece of music we do has its own story and message. By diving into that message we begin to experience the whole piece; which serves us as whole people. Utilize the gifts and uniqueness of your community. Capitalize on music’s innately cross-curricular nature to build that community through song.
About the author:
NAfME member Andrew Bruhn is a versatile musician, actively working as a choral conductor, composer, and trumpeter. He received his Master of Sacred Music degree in choral conducting from Luther Seminary and St. Olaf College, where he studied conducting with Anton Armstrong, Christopher Aspaas, and Mark Stover. Andrew is currently Director of Choral Music at Rockford Christian Schools in IL, where he teaches 6-12th grade choirs, class piano, and AP Music Theory. Mr. Bruhn spent two years as the director of the Luther Seminary Choir and Luther Brass in St. Paul, MN, where he also worked as a church musician and choral music educator. While in Minnesota he sang and recorded with the Twin Cities’ group Magnum Chorum. He recently served as the conductor/clinician for the District 8 ILMEA Elementary Chorus. The American Choral Director’s Association has published Andrew’s writing. His music is published by Choristers Guild, GIA, and Concordia, and has been featured in workshops and festivals throughout the country.