Daily Orchestra Program Update

Diego & James

It’s Tuesday evening, about 7:00 PM at Federal Hill House. Lessons have been taught; two orchestras, totaling about 30 second-graders, have rehearsed; instruments have been hauled to and from rooms; and tables and chairs have been stacked and unstacked, arranged and rearranged.

I’m giving Adrienne the rundown of today’s session with our first-year Daily Orchestra Program students (whom we have now dubbed “The Britten Orchestra”). “The problem is I just can’t get the cellos to stop talking!” I say.

We both simultaneously realize that it’s because they’re all friends, and they just can’t help joking around with each other during orchestra. (Somehow this problem isn’t present in the violin section, but I’ll keep my own musings about the larger implications of the nature of violinists vs. cellists to myself.)

Even though the endless chatter from our young second-grade cello section is giving me a headache I decide that it’s really not the worst problem to have, and it might even be a sign that we’re doing something good. After all, having our students make friends with each other is one of our goals. So if they’re making friends and making noise together? Success! Sometimes I just wish they’d make noise more quietly.


Up until the winter break our two orchestras were meeting as two separate groups at separate times. By our final class of 2013, our second-year group (now dubbed “The Beethovens”) had made steady progress on the familiar round “Frere Jacques” as well as the seasonal favorite “Jingle Bells.” On Fridays the Beethovens continued to have fun with improvisation games. One of the favorites was “Animal Guessing Game,” for which students divided into teams, came up with an animal and a way of imitating that animal on their instruments, and had other teams guess their animal based on a short performance. Our “Holiday Guessing Game” was the most creative experience yet, though sadly, no one was able to guess the exact words “Santa climbing down the chimney with his reindeer on the roof” (We guessed santa and reindeer, but not the entire specific scenario).


Our first-year ensemble (the “Brittens”) ended 2013 with a spectacular review game show, in which each student added a small piece to a winter scene when he/she answered a question correctly. The winter scene ended up looking like this: 


Okay, so it didn’t quite turn out in the way I had envisioned when I originally cut out the pieces, but that’s just the way things go around here. The conglomeration pictured above is proof that each and every student was able to answer a review question correctly, which means that each and every student learned something in the first half of their year in the Daily Orchestra Program!

Since the downbeat of 2014 we have taken the courageous step of combining two orchestras into one. The Brittens and Beethovens have come together, each group adding to the other group a dimension that might not have been present before. Last Friday our freshly combined orchestras strutted their stuff for the audience at the Performance Party. The Beethovens supplied a pizziccato accompaniment for the Brittens during the truly rockin’ “Rock N’ Roll.” Then they proceeded to stun me with their beautiful singing of “Are You Sleeping,” before they played it on their instruments, with Beethovens bowing the melody along with a steady pizziccato provided by the Brittens.

Adrienne and I were both so proud of our Daily Orchestra’s performance. With the week shortened by a holiday and a snow day, we were not quite sure we’d be able to pull it all together. However, our young orchestra members united for the evening and not only did an amazing job but smiled and clearly enjoyed themselves while doing it. “You couldn’t have wiped the smile off of Jimmyla’s face!” beamed a joyful grandmother.

I saw many many unwipeable smiles that night. It is such a pleasure to see our students taking pride and enjoyment in their music. Adrienne and I are both looking forward to the new semester ahead with the Daily Orchestra Program!

-Lisa Barksdale

Performance Party!

As Community MusicWorks students prepare for this Friday’s Performance Party and Potluck (5 pm at the Calvary Baptist Church at 747 Broad Street in Providence, bring a dish to share!), we thought we’d take a look at a few captured moments of Performance Parties of past years:

























Most of these photos taken by the fabulous Jori Ketten.

CMW student Paul (left) won the arm wrestling contest against his teacher, Jesse Holstein.

Teacher Training: Annalisa on Lorrie Heagy’s Levels


I am so jealous of great video game design.

When you’re playing a well-made game, you don’t want to take a break after clearing a level/beating a boss/whatever it is that you achieve in first-person shooters. You dive right into the next mission. It’s as natural as breathing.

How revolutionary would it be if we could design musical learning in the same way? 

Luckily for us, the legendary Lorrie Heagy of Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) had the same thought, and was willing to share her strategy of “levels” with the CMW teachers in a training for staff this past semester.

It’s so elegant. As teachers, we’re already breaking down our students’ work into manageable chunks. Unfortunately, baby steps don’t always feel fun… until, somehow, we transform them by referring to them as levels. 

It’s like magic.

My student Victor came in to his lesson this week chattering about video games, as is his way. Here was the perfect candidate for levels.

We started working on our piece for the day – a folk song called “Go, Tell Aunt Rhody.” I challenged him to Level 1: clapping and counting out the rhythm.  He cleared it with ease.  Level 2 was a pizzicato (plucking the string) level.  Level 3 involved our first upgrade (!), a “proud violin.” (This is a phrase I regularly use to describe a violin that’s being held high with good posture.) Victor struck the pose he imagined his game character would make when receiving an upgrade and sang a brief victory tune. I told him that his new proud violin had much better stats than the regular violin. We were totally in business.

The next Level (4) was a puzzle – he upgraded his pizzicato to a violin bow, and had to play the piece’s rhythms on open strings without the use of his left hand fingers. (A little extra processing is involved there.)  Finally, we had made it to the Boss Level, Level 5, which involved playing the music as written with bow, fingers, rhythm, and everything. (Victor burst into dramatic boss music to set the scene.)  We rolled the dice that I keep in my case to determine how many lives he had – how many chances he would have to clear the level.

Uh-oh: he rolled a three. Not many chances.

But! He focused a little extra on each repetition – just as any reasonable person would when he or she is running out of lives – and after two incomplete battles with “Aunt Rhody” (resulting, of course, in “deaths and respawns”) Victor beat that Boss Level.

It was a great lesson. Lorrie’s beautiful motivational tool tapped into a social construct that my students and I both associate with an addicting mode of work and achievement. I’m considering adding a classic Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack next week.

Now that my students are on board, I suppose it’s time to figure out some levels for myself. Here’s hoping I get addicted to practicing – because I can’t stop repeating that familiar refrain, “just one more level and then I’ll be done for the day.  Just one more level.”

-Annalisa Boerner

-photo by Jori Ketten

Read an interview with Lorrie Heagy here.