Improvisation in Elementary Chorus
NAfME member Shirley Van Paepeghem teaches elementary choir and music at North Star Charter School in Eagle, Idaho. A veteran music educator and jazz vocalist, says she “long ago connected with the creativity and student voice that is demonstrated through the Orff style of teaching in the elementary music classroom.”
She adds: “I have experimented with many styles of presenting to parents the learning that has taken place in the music classroom. This year my student teacher Baylee Proctor and I engaged in a unique collaboration with our PE teacher, Suzie Sawyers. Fortunately for us, it was quite successful.” (Watch the performance video below.)
“The assignment was to create a jump rope, gymnastics, basketball, dance, or shadow play routine to jazz standard,” Van Paepeghem says. “While not all students were selected to perform in the evening performance for parents, all were given a score and credit for their teamwork and creativity. The evening culminated with all of the students singing ‘Blue Skies,’ which included conversational vocal improvisation.”
“Students also were assigned to write up an introduction for their selection giving the history and/or connection to jazz,” continued Van Paepeghem. “Those students whose routines were not chosen for the evening performance had the option to take on the tasks of technical duties or reading the introductions. This gave everyone a job.
“At first some of the students were somewhat skeptical they would find a song to connect with. Others made a choice immediately. In the end, the parents loved it, and my administration was thrilled,” shared Van Paepeghem. “The students’ level of excitement building up to the performance was equal, if not more than with other performances. Below are a few student quotes from a short written assessment completed a few days before the performance. Students read their quotes aloud between performance pieces.”
Students said, “I think jazz music is”:
- Cool and makes me want to tap my feet to the beat.
- Fun because of the improvisation.
- Really like pop music—it’s cool and has a good tempo.
- Unique in its own way. Every song has a personality that makes me feel the music.
- Fun to listen to when you are having a bad day.
- Fun, happy, and it makes you feel lots of different emotions.
- Catchy and fun to dance and sing to.
- A kind of music that makes you want to snap your fingers and dance.
- A wonderful rhythm of music that makes me feel at home.
- Can be slow and calm or fast and rhythmic.
- When you are doing the scat, then you can just act all like yourself and be YOU.
- Can be relaxing and fun at the same time. It can be nice to get a break from rock and roll.
- I want to get my hands on some MORE!
Students were also asked, “What I like best about what I have learned about jazz is”:
- It was born in America.
- Scatting and improvising.
- It sounds cool and comes in different sounds.
- It is the only all-American music.
- I would like to learn more about jazz artists and how jazz was created.
- Improvisation is a lot of what you like and what your heart likes to hear. … like, if you like the trumpet, you will make trumpet noise.
- I have learned new jazz singers names, instruments, and a lot of other amazing things about this kind of music
- I practiced soloing in “Blue Skies” and got the chance to listen and learn to improvise scat solos.
- A lot of songs were written during the Great Depression to make people happy.
- There are so many different styles of jazz.
- You don’t have to know how to sing or play a musical instrument [to enjoy jazz].
- It is more like real life, because you can only plan so much of it, and you have to be flexible for the rest.”
“I provided a list of [song] suggestions, but left it open to them also to research other ideas,” Van Paepeghem says. Students chose the following songs:
- “Blue Skies”
- “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
- “Accentuate the Positive”
- “Globetrotters Theme”
- “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (Andrew Sisters)
- “Fly Me to the Moon” (Frank Sinatra)
- “Swingin’ on a Star” (Bing Crosby)
- “Everlasting Love” (Natalie Cole)
- “String of Pearls” (Jerry Gray and Eddie DeLange)
- “Feeling Good” (Michael Buble)
- “Sway” (remix)
Watch the North Star Charter School’s “Jazz, Jump and Jam” performance:
NAfME member Shirley Van Paepeghem’s teaching experience includes junior high school choral music, K–8 general music, and private voice. From its inception in 1997 until 2003, she developed and directed the Youth Choir of Central Oregon’s Debut Choir, which provided choral experience and vocal training to children in grades 3 through 8.
She is a Level Two certified Orff Music Instructor. She is the Idaho Past-President of the Orff-Schulwerk Association for music educators, the Repertoire and Standards chair for the Idaho Music Educators Association, and was a co-chair for the National Women’s Honor Choir for the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA).
During the summer, Van Paepeghem teaches choral music and jazz at the acclaimed Young Musicians and Artists camp at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and she performs regularly as a jazz vocalist.
The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month. NAfME offers a variety of jazz education materials that music educators can use in April and throughout the year. NAfME presents some of the material in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, April 14, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).