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Youth Orchestra + Sonic Boom

Boise Philharmonic Association

Hundreds of classrooms around Treasure Valley participated in Boise Phil’s 2022-2023 Music Education Program, including 100+ local elementary and middle schools, home and online school groups, plus 170+ high school students from areas around Boise and as far away as Twin Falls, ID. Project goals ranged from musical literacy in elementary groups (listening, reading, and responding to music) to giving advanced public performances as part of the Boise Phil Youth Orchestra. Project activities took place in school classrooms as part of everyday learning activities as well as in Boise, Nampa, and Caldwell for rehearsals and performances. The Boise Phil’s Education Program is an annual program that is selected for its widespread geographic reach and benefit for local schools in need of supplementary music education services at little to no cost.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How can we enrich students’ musical knowledge and effectively teach skills to grow their tastes and communicate ideas?

Responding (Anchor Standards 7/8)
The Elementary-student focused “Sonic Boom” curriculum distributed and taught in local classrooms outlines a path to musical literacy, which encompasses more than just the ability to read music: throughout the eight-week course, students learn to internalize heard music through focused listening to basic elements (e.g. a single pitch, a melody, a rhythm, etc.) and to describe those sounds in words. In this way, students learn to communicate music through language and discussion with their peers, leading to the ability to socially share (present) opinions about their favorite music. A year-end School Concert provides the `grand finale` as students respond to a full symphony orchestra performance.

Performing/Presenting/Producing (Anchor Standards 5/6)
At a more advanced level, high school-age Boise Phil Youth Orchestra students perform four public concerts per year. This benchmark achievement prepares students for careers in music or simply equips them with the life skill of dedicated craftsmanship in a complex pursuit. Students with the highest level of ability are rewarded with solo parts in concertos (playing technically challenging concert music accompanied by the rest of the orchestra).

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Learning Objectives: 1) I can describe my musical intent as a composer, 2) I can identify differences in musical elements (Core Arts Standards: Responding; Creating)

After completing eight weeks of musical adventures with “Sound” and “Silence,” and then visiting them in person during the annual School Concerts in March 2024, students participated in an “Epilogue” lesson that asked them to “write a letter or make a poster describing how your favorite music should sound using the elements of music.” On their worksheets, students described in detail, using musical vocabulary such as tempo, dynamics, rhythm, and pitches, what they like to hear. The Boise Phil received one poster from a class of first grade students, in the shape of musical notes, thanking them for the opportunity to meet “Sound” and “Silence” and listing their favorite musical moments from the School Concert.

Impact

By the end of the project, we noticed that having the curriculum tied to animations of the main characters, music played on the School Concerts program, and included on the interactive concert playbills made the curriculum more engaging for young students and teachers alike, who got to know the characters on their journey along with the lesson content. The combination of worksheet illustrations, animated scenes that reflect each lesson, and the live-action portrayal of the characters at the School Concerts made this a much more impactful program.

We were surprised by how teachers responded to the newly revised Sonic Boom curriculum, noting that it is an especially great resource for newer educators who are just getting started with their lesson plans. Though the curriculum was not necessarily intended for new teachers exclusively, the added benefit of creating such a complete curriculum is that beginning educators or those without a significant background in music can use it as structure or inspiration for creating their own lessons. More experienced teachers still use the curriculum for its story elements, but they may prefer to adapt each lesson to their predeveloped teaching styles.

Reflection

The live-action portrayal of “Sound” and “Silence” during the School Concerts, where both characters led students in discovering the orchestra and responding to various music Played live on stage, was an exciting new element to add to the longstanding tradition of Treasure Valley-wide School Concerts. The professional actors from Boise Contemporary Theater and the tailor-made costumes by local designer Abbie Fickinger made the concert feel freshly engaging for students and teachers alike.

A noted improvement for next year would be to include a takeaway evaluation or reflection that is given to teachers and students by Boise Phil staff each time they participate in the program. Assessing impact on students is a vital component of the program that can sometimes be overlooked by teachers with busy schedules. The Phil cannot expect teachers to prepare these materials on their own even after requesting them, so making them an integrated part of the process next year will give us more information going forward.

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