Music and Literature at Mather High School (2009-2010)

The Question

In a 3-subject residency with Fifth House Ensemble, students at Mather High school studied a variety in topics in a new way. In sixth and seventh period English, students studied plot lines and storytelling in order to effectively relay the impact of a disease on society. By reading both fiction and non-fiction stories about the Yellow Fever outbreak in 1793, students gained valuable knowledge about the social and personal impact of diseases. Chamber music enhanced these lesson plans by teaching standard repertoire and vocabulary while still relating the music to stories and to meaningful situations. In their final projects, small groups of students worked together to write a poem, story, or short graphic novel that was set to music performed by Fifth House Ensemble & Mather Orchestra students.

In fourth and fifth period World Studies, students discussed music and art as a means for social discourse and political and social impetus/change as well as important events in the Middle Ages. Studying four topics- the fall of Rome, the reign of Charlemegne, the crusades, and the 11-12th Century Rennaissance- brought to life important aspects of history such as feelings on war and diseases that changed the course of history. Many standard works were explored through a historical angle, including controversial music by Shostakovich and Wagner, which gave further insight to both history and music. For the final presentation, students worked in groups to create one of three projects : a dramatic reading of a journal entry, a graphic novel with historical accuracy, or a short documentary. All projects required music chosen by the students and performed by Fifth House Ensemble and Mather Orchestra students.

In beginning orchestra, students learned about the role of chamber music in the music world and how to bring music alive for all audiences. Through group activities that involved public speaking, music interpretation, and lots of creativity, students developed a familiarity with performance techniques and connecting with audiences. The students were also divided into chamber groups that were then coached by members of Fifth House Ensemble. Chamber groups performed as a part of the final project for family, friends and fellow students.

The Process

Fifth House also featured the help of Ezra Claytan Daniels for this residency. As our collaborator for the 2009-2010 season, the author of Black Violet brought first hand experience and help to students as they created their final projects. Students were also exposed to his work as an example of an ideal combination of visual art and classical music.

The Final Project