Musical Ocean Ecosystems at Burley Elementary (2008-2009)

The Question

How is chamber music similar to an ecosystem? How do the make-ups and operations of different ecosystems compare? How can music represent these different ecosystems? How do our interactions with ecosystems change them?

The Process

 In small groups, students researched one of four water ecosystems: the Florida Keys, Louisiana (swamps/levees), Alaska’s coastline, and the Great Barrier Reef.  They were responsible for presenting two topics on their ecosystem, selected from the following: an overview of the ecosystem (including plant and animal life, location, unique attributes of that ecosystem), background on a problem facing that ecosystem (what is the problem, how is it measured, and what are related problems), possible reasons for the problem (factors and supporting data), or previous efforts to lessen the problem and those outcomes (newest research, suggestions for improving the problem).

Simultaneously, students worked with Fifth House, learning about the components of chamber music, musical vocabulary, and different periods of classical music (and how to identify those periods).  Using this new musical knowledge, students selected pieces of chamber music (from recordings provided by FH) that represented their assigned ecosystem.  They chose several pieces to represent the ecosystem, the conflict/problems it faces, how the ecosystem functions (how the parts interact), and how the problem is being resolved.  Students were responsible for presenting (through a “pre-concert talk,” a slide presentation, a narrative skit, or a podcast) their rationale for choosing various pieces, and how the pieces related to their ecosystem.

The Final Project

The final performance consisted of members of Fifth House ensemble playing the students’ chosen compositions with the students’ presentations.  The performance was be open to the entire school community, including students, teachers, administrators, and families.