CNMN > Projects > Nelson Mandela High School : Creative music making in a secondary wind band program

Keshini Senanayake

  • Instruments acoustiques
  • 13 à 18 ans

From one class to an entire school year

  • Éducation

Nelson Mandela High School : Creative music making in a secondary wind band program


This pro­ject explores crea­tive music making in a secon­da­ry wind band pro­gram Nel­son Man­de­la High School, one of Alberta’s desi­gna­ted High School Rede­si­gn Schools. In a rede­si­gn school, tasks are desi­gned not only to assess cur­ri­cu­lum out­comes, but also to help deve­lop core com­pe­ten­cies in our stu­dents. Each course deve­lops dif­ferent com­pe­ten­cies – for music spe­ci­fi­cal­ly, the com­pe­ten­cies are Crea­ti­vi­ty, Col­la­bo­ra­tion, and Per­so­nal Growth. Music tea­cher Keshi­ni Sena­nayake and her stu­dents share and reflect on crea­tive music making in their classroom :

Hi, my name is Keshi­ni Sena­nayake (she/her). I live and teach on Trea­ty 7 Ter­ri­to­ry, spe­ci­fi­cal­ly in Cal­ga­ry, Alber­ta. I cur­rent­ly teach Grade 10–12 Music at Nel­son Man­de­la High School. Our pro­gram includes a wide varie­ty of the fol­lo­wing – Ins­tru­men­tal Music, Concert Band, Choir, Guitar/Rock Band, Cham­ber Music, and Strings Ensemble. 

Crea­tive Challenges

I use “Crea­tive Chal­lenges”, or crea­tive music making tasks, to assess not only spe­ci­fic musi­cal skills/curriculum out­comes, but also the stu­dents’ abi­li­ties to col­la­bo­rate toge­ther to create their own ori­gi­nal music, using a set of gui­de­lines given to them. These crea­tive chal­lenges have become a regu­lar part of my pro­gram, to ensure stu­dents not only learn and deve­lop their musi­cal skills, but also have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to deve­lop their own crea­ti­vi­ty. I have found immense value in crea­ting a culture where crea­ti­vi­ty is a regu­lar part of the music pro­gram – an increase in confi­dence of stu­dents expe­ri­men­ting and pro­blem sol­ving in class acti­vi­ties, and crea­ting a music pro­gram where stu­dents are co-crea­tors in pro­gram deci­sions and the class/rehearsal pro­cess. Here are two such crea­tive challenges : 

  1. Sym­bols and Visual Score : This exer­cise can be used with any skill level of stu­dents. It has wor­ked effec­ti­ve­ly with my senior stu­dents, as well as my begin­ners. Stu­dents are given a set of cards with dif­ferent shapes and sym­bols. Their chal­lenge is to arrange the shapes/symbols into a visual score to represent their ori­gi­nal composition. 
  2. Com­po­sing with Reper­toire Excerpts : An exer­cise used spe­ci­fi­cal­ly with band stu­dents, com­po­sing with reper­toire excerpts asks stu­dents are to mix and com­bine melo­dic excerpts from their band pieces to create their own com­po­si­tion, or “remix” as the stu­dents like to call them. This task is great not just to get stu­dents being crea­tive, but also gets stu­dents prac­ti­sing and rehear­sal parts of their band pieces ! 

Suc­cess­ful Music Making at Nel­son Man­de­la High School : Five ‘Look-fors’

This video explores what a suc­cess­ful music pro­gram means to me. My thoughts on this will be constant­ly evol­ving, but these are the main pillars of what I hope stu­dents will take away from their expe­rience in the Nel­son Man­de­la music program. 

Trans­crip­tion : “When I was hired to build the pro­gram at the school I’m cur­rent­ly at, I had some time to reflect and think about, ‘what do I want stu­dents to take away from taking music at Man­de­la?’ Slow­ly along the way, this wasn’t right at the begin­ning, but throu­ghout my years of tea­ching, I’ve deve­lo­ped five ‘look-fors’, or traits, or big­ger ideas that I want stu­dents to be able to take away from my program. 

  1. The first was for stu­dents to deve­lop life­long skills to be suc­cess­ful in any life pur­suit. Kno­wing that, regard­less of if my stu­dents choose to conti­nue on to a career in music or not, kno­wing that they’re going to be deve­lo­ping life skills or com­pe­ten­cies that would help make them suc­cess­ful no mat­ter what they decide to pur­sue next. For example, the time mana­ge­ment piece of being able to juggle various ensembles along with their home­work and ath­le­tics and other things, the abi­li­ty to col­la­bo­rate and work toge­ther, or the abi­li­ty to take cri­tique or feed­back and apply it so that they can improve their skills. So that was one of the ‘look-fors’ I was hoping kids would get out of my pro­gram : deve­lo­ping those life­long skills to be suc­cess­ful humans whe­re­ver they go next. 
  2. The second trait I was hoping for was for stu­dents to deve­lop musi­cal skills so that they can pur­sue their own musi­cal endea­vors, kno­wing that stu­dents come into the class­room with their own inter­ests and their own ideas alrea­dy of what they want to accom­plish. Whe­ther they want to be able to per­form a song or they want to be to com­pose a song, how can I teach them musi­cal skills for them to be able to pur­sue their own musi­cal goals ? 
  3. The other goal that I had was to be able to pro­vide enri­ching oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents, whe­ther that was through per­for­mances, work­shops, concerts, being able to pro­vide those oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents who may not have access to if it wasn’t for a school music program. 
  4. The other one was to build a posi­tive com­mu­ni­ty, to create this posi­tive com­mu­ni­ty in the school where stu­dents can feel inclu­ded and a space where they can feel safe to be them­selves and to come toge­ther with a com­mon goal of crea­ting music together. 
  5. This last goal, which has become more so now than when I star­ted, was to help stu­dents deve­lop an anti-oppres­sive lens through music, through stu­dy and the pur­suit of music, hel­ping them deve­lop an equi­ty and anti-oppres­sive lens so that they can deve­lop empa­thy and be pro­duc­tive allies and contri­bute to pro­duc­tive change in our world. 

When I think about what is suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion, and what does that mean to me and my stu­dents, those are the five that I have over the years built as ‘look-fors’ for when I think about what I want stu­dents to get out of my program.” 

The Value of Crea­tive Music Making

This video explores my thoughts on the value of crea­tive music making, and what drew me towards ensu­ring crea­tive music making is an inte­gral part of the music pro­gram. Explo­ring crea­tive music making in my own tea­ching prac­tice has not only high­ligh­ted some of the gaps in tra­di­tio­nal music edu­ca­tion, but also open my eyes to the pos­si­bi­li­ties and bene­fits for stu­dents, when we are willing to ven­ture out­side of the colo­nial struc­tures and prac­tices embed­ded in tra­di­tio­nal music education. 

Trans­crip­tion :

“When I gra­dua­ted from my BA pro­gram, I was left with some prompts from our pro­fes­sor Doug Frie­sen, and was also reflec­ting on what I was able to observe and see within my own tea­ching prac­ti­cum. The com­bi­na­tion of that plus the first couple of years of my tea­ching made me rea­lize that if you’ve got a pro­gram that fol­lows the tra­di­tio­nal Euro­cen­tric clas­si­cal music direc­tion, there are not many oppor­tu­ni­ties around stu­dents actual­ly crea­ting ori­gi­nal music. 

Doug has a very famous quote that always kind of stuck with me : ‘What’s crea­tive about tel­ling kids where to breathe in holes?’ So that made me rea­lize that we spend a lot of time pre­pa­ring kids to play in band and for per­for­mances, but do we neces­sa­ri­ly make time for stu­dents to create their own music ? Usual­ly any form of music-making came after lear­ning mul­tiple units and years of music theo­ry, or music per­for­mance first. The­re’s such a hea­vy empha­sis on learn the theo­ry, learn the per­for­mance first, and then you get to create, rather than crea­ting a culture in our music pro­grams of being able to create from day one and ack­now­led­ging the musi­cal know­ledge that stu­dents alrea­dy bring in the classroom.

In the first couple of days, I’m asking stu­dents, ‘What is your pre­vious music expe­rience’ and a lot of stu­dents right away say, ‘I don’t have any’. I’m like, ‘Well, actual­ly you do because you lis­ten to music, you love it and appre­ciate it. You know what you like and dis­like, you can alrea­dy tell what sounds good and what doesn’t sound good.’ 

So I chal­lenge my stu­dents that they real­ly come into the class­room with exper­tise and it’s just a mat­ter of deve­lo­ping their lis­te­ning ear and music lite­ra­cy. It’s alrea­dy deve­lo­ping from that base know­ledge of what they do alrea­dy know. So that chal­len­ged me to think : are there ways for stu­dents to prac­tice making music from Day One ? Rather than having to wait after ten theo­ry les­sons, are there oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to create music from Day One ? And now when we start tea­ching about music theo­ry and per­for­mance and tech­nique, it’s with the idea of ‘Here’s some skills and tools to help you conti­nue crea­ting music. Here are some more things to help you unders­tand it and for you to be able to com­pose and create your own.’ 

One of the great things wor­king in my school is that we assess both out­comes and com­pe­ten­cies. So the out­comes are from the cur­ri­cu­lum and eve­ry options class iden­ti­fies three com­pe­ten­cies. For example, I eva­luate stu­dents on crea­ti­vi­ty, col­la­bo­ra­tion and per­so­nal growth. Each class has a list of nine pro­vi­ded by Alber­ta Ed. You pick two or three that are most rele­vant for your class content and you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to eva­luate stu­dents on those skills. Using that com­pe­ten­cy-based assess­ment, I was able to use, as we call them, crea­tive music chal­lenges. It was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents to be given dif­ferent tasks and chal­lenges to help create their own music again, from Day One. I don’t wait until kids know how to play an ins­tru­ment, but from Day One. Then they can actual­ly see their growth and pro­cess, their pro­gress and their abi­li­ty to take more things that they’ve lear­ned from class and apply it to these crea­tive music chal­lenges and assess them more on the pro­cess of how they crea­ted the pro­duct : taking away that pres­sure from the final pro­duct and eva­lua­ting them on the pro­cess, eva­lua­ting them on their unders­tan­ding of the crea­tive pro­cess, and eva­lua­ting them on their abi­li­ty to col­la­bo­rate and work toge­ther to create a final musi­cal project. 

What I found was that there was quite a bit of a shift in my pro­gram culture. We crea­ted a culture in our music classes of crea­ting music from Day One, and have been inte­gra­ting it and allo­wing it to be part of the pro­gram. Stu­dents were less anxious about expe­ri­men­ting with music, around taking risks, even when they were taking risks with playing tests or per­for­mance tasks that we’re doing in class. It almost alle­via­ted some of that anxie­ty that stu­dents get. They’re more eager to expe­riment and try and if it goes wrong, like hey, okay it went wrong, espe­cial­ly when we star­ted tal­king about jazz improv and whe­ne­ver I star­ted crea­ting tasks around com­po­si­tions in my upper years for them to create. For example, in our pop song unit, they actual­ly have to com­pose and write their own pop songs and per­form it. So they they’re less anxious­ness or hesi­tan­cy to actual­ly try it, because we’ve crea­ted this culture of expe­ri­men­ting and trying from Day One through crea­tive tasks. 

I see the value in offe­ring these tasks to stu­dents and inte­gra­ting it into our pro­gram rather than let­ting it be this one off task that you do, but rather inte­grate it as part of your pro­gram and kno­wing too that you can assess so many other out­comes. For example, if you do a crea­tive music chal­lenges with ins­tru­ments right away, you can assess stu­dents” unders­tan­ding of their ins­tru­ment tech­nique and musi­cal phra­sing. The­re’s always ways to connect those out­comes back to the cur­ri­cu­lum. I see the value in the results of the stu­dents and the culture of my pro­gram, inte­gra­ting crea­ti­vi­ty as part of your music pro­gram, and valuing it as much as you value theo­ry, per­for­mance and history. 

My hope for music edu­ca­tion is that we can begin to move for­ward to decons­truc­ting that idea of ‘Here’s the music, I am the conduc­tor, I tell you what to do, and you lis­ten to those ins­truc­tions’, decons­truc­ting that idea of music edu­ca­tion and inte­gra­ting dif­ferent genres of music, dif­ferent pers­pec­tives and dif­ferent ways to create music.”

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