And they think they’re just playing music.
“When I am planning lessons I’m not just thinking about music,” Swartzel said. “I do not teach music. I teach children. And there is a difference.
“We have to find a way to help these children find the life skills they are going to need in our world.”
The music budget at Arnold tops out at $300. Swartzel said this is more than most schools offer. Especially, in a time when school budget cuts often mean arts and music get the ax.
Grants are used to supplement her budget.
“It takes about 20 hours to write a grant ...” Swartzel said. “Twenty hours of my time are going to give my students a lifetime of valuable information.”
For three years she has been awarded a $1,000 mini-grant through the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation.
First came the lap dulcimer.
Then Swartzel’s students rocked the house with their trash band.
This year, they will become elementary masters of the Orff instruments, bass xylophones, alto metallophone, alto xylophones, soprano xylophones, soprano metallophone and a glockenspiel.
Six Orff instruments and dust covers were purchased with the $1,000. An additional $1,000 grant from Broad Street United Methodist Church bought six more. The two grants brought the total number of Orff instruments to 18.
Students have learned several scales under Swartzel’s direction. She sits at the front of the class keeping time and singing the notes.
Fourth- and fifth-graders eagerly await her instruction.
They know the rules as well as Swartzel knows her students.
“I think the most powerful tool I have is knowledge of my students — understanding the background they’re from, understanding their home life,” Swartzel said.
“I take the time to know them so when I am working with them I am not just teaching student A. I am teaching a name and a person.
“When I understand their interests, it is a lot easier for me to get inside their mind and help them understand how valuable what they are doing here is.”
Orff instruments were designed with beginners in mind. Karl Maendler and Carl Orff developed the instrument in 1928. All Orff instruments have removeable bars which can be taken out when not in use. This way the only possible notes showing are the ones that are part of the music.
Swartzel’s students play with all of the bars.
Sometimes half of the class will play one line of notes while the other half plays another. The quick, crisp notes of the xylophone mix with the bright sounds of the glockenspiel and the lingering metallophone tones.
Students eagerly anticipate music class.
“There are a lot of disappointments out there for some of these kids. ... We cannot control all the factors in their lives, but I want the time I have with them to hold meaning,” Swartzel said. “I want to make it special for them.
“Whenever they come in they ask, ‘What are we going to do today?’ They always come in with that little bit of anticipations. I love that.”
Lessons are taught on the students’ level.
“I always tell my students music is like ‘Shrek.’ It is like an onion and it has layers and you have to learn the layers,” Swartzel said. “They learn how to read rhythm, then treble clef and then they have to learn all of the articulation skills.”
She is amazed by the natural and achievable talent levels of her students.
“They are extremely talented kids,” Swartzel said. “They just do not have the same opportunities some of the kids in our community have.”
Some of Swartzel’s students will have the chance to shine at various venues, like basketball games. They will have an opportunity to perform for their peers and parents in the spring.
Swartzel is already thinking of next year’s project and potential grant.
“One of the higher critical-thinking skills I am going toward is synthesis. Synthesis is playing and the next level is creating,” Swartzel said. “It is hard for kids to create music. They think it is only for the real smart people — not for them.”
She is flirting with the idea of integrating technology and music.
“Kids love technology and they are not afraid of it. Adults are more scared of technology,” Swartzel said. “Children are what I like to call ‘natives.’ They grew up with it. If they are not using it here at school, then they are using it somewhere.”
For now, Swartzel is working hard to prepare her students for their big spring debut.