Tuesday, 22 December 2009

No child's play: Kids render music that transcends age

Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines—Mariana Ablan, Kaira Palcos and Lia Nanca look like normal kids at first glance. but after the three played their Orff instruments, they made me realize: the universal language of music transcends boundaries that highly complicated classical pieces are also made for the young.

Mariana is one of the marimba players of Temple Hill International School Instrumental Ensemble while Kaira and Lia play lead percussion instruments for the Philippine Montessori Center Instrumental Ensemble, which performed for the New York Children's Orchestra Society in April 2008. Both groups performed with the Philippine Madrigal Singers at the “Thankful” concert on December 15.

“When I saw my sister and two brothers play the guitar and drums, I also wanted to be into music and learn to play at least four instruments. Now after being part of the group, I realized how fun it was plus I learned how to listen to other people and meet new friends,” said 10-year old Mariana, who spent the last four years with the ensemble.

“I joined the group to play music, have fun and overcome my shyness,” said Kaira and Lia.

“Music is fun and it's for everyone,” added Kaira who just turned six this year.

Kaira and Lia, who play the marimba and glockenspiel, and Mariana, who also plays the base xylophone and temple blocks are mentored by music teachers Maria Catherine Zulueta and Lois Espinosa from Philippine Montessori Center.

Both teachers said they adopted the philosophy and methods of German composer Carl Orff in teaching music to pre-school children. Orff, over his 30 years of work, observed that young children responded most to rhythm so he focused on teaching music via rhythmic expressions.

“Orff instruments like the small glockenspiel, concert bells and triangle are used for teaching kids because they use cross motor skills that children have raw, in the beginning. Of course, we simplified how the orchestra music can be played using percussion instruments to match it to the skill sets of the children,” said Espinosa.

“Then in 1982 our school director asked us to form a group that would perform intermission numbers during our culminating activity. From two children playing Orff instruments that are found in the classroom, we have added members to play new instruments and later, we introduced more songs,” she added.

“Since most of the kids are first-timers, they have no preference in music so they learn whatever you introduce. Now we endorse classical pieces because studies have shown that help in brain development especially in critical thinking functions,” said Espinosa.

Realizing that Filipino children love melody as much as rhythm, the teachers introduced more complicated pieces from Broadway, overtures and Filipino classical compositions, which has become a staple numbers in the group's performances both here and abroad.

“Children are definitely easier to handle than adults, I believe. They are like sponges, they absorb what you teach them. Of course, we selected them based on their innate musical ability but we also considered their attitude,” said Zulueta.

“Attitude is very important because while learning music, they must also learn discipline which is very much part of the processing of learning to play music and working as a team,” she added.

Above learning musical prowess and artistic fluency, Espinosa added that the children in the group learn values such as patience, concentration, discipline and teamwork.

“Over time we have noticed and the kids themselves too, that they become more patient and more considerate of others like when a teacher works with a child while the rest waits. They do not blame others for mistakes during practice sessions or even in performances,” she said.

“We don't have ranks, there is also no hierarchy on who gets the bigger part. They know they are a group and whether they play a minor, a major or a soloist role, they are happy because they know they are as important as everyone else in the group. Plus, they are better academically and more emotionally stable,” said Espinosa.

Zulueta and Espinosa added that through the group, awareness on the marimba—a wooden instrument with keys similar to the xylophone that are hit by a mallet—has been rising. The once forgotten indigenous instrument is gaining high interest worldwide and also among members of the instrumental group who want to take advance lessons for playing the instrument.

“I want to learn to play the marimba better. Although it is a challenging instrument, I enjoy it,” said Mariana.

Zulueta added that the group also adopted the angklung, an indigenous musical instrument from India which uses two to three bamboo tubes set to a specific pitch and attached to a frame.

As for Mariana, Kaira and Lian, all three said they would pursue learning more instruments that would be introduced in the group as they ponder a musical career in the near future.

While 80 percent of the ensemble's member usually leave for another school in the following year, Zulueta and Espinosa said the difficulty of training a new group of children every year does not compare to the fulfillment of seeing the kids perform as a group and in collaboration with other artists.

Asked for their message to the group, Espinosa said: “I hope you (kids of the ensemble) continue making music either as a soloist or a group. Keep at it.”

“You are the reason that continually inspires music teachers like us to keep going year after year,” said Zulueta.

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