One Thursday morning, students, faculty and administrators at The Children's Guild Baltimore campus gather for an all-school assembly. The excitement and exuberance of the students as they found their seats were clues this was not your run-of-the-mill school assemblies. The stage at the front of the gymnasium, known as Discovery Park, displayed a brightly colored banner, "The Spring Jam." For Guild music instructors Al Saunders and Dottie Timberlake, this assembly marked the 20th music performance they have coordinated at The Children's Guild. This morning's assembly was a showcase of the talent of the students at The Guild and, more importantly, a visual and auditory illustration of the impact the music program has on faculty, administrators and students alike.
The mood for the morning was quickly set by the warm welcome of a faculty-student duet, serving as the emcees for the program. Exuding positive energy, the first group of performers was warmly welcomed to the stage by audience applause. Four students in The Children's Guild Structured Teaching program (now our autism spectrum program) stepped up to the microphones on stage and performed "This Little Light of Mine." With the audience clapping, the young girl and three boys found their confidence, not only singing out all the words to the song but also dancing and smiling.
The smiles continued as did the applause as eight other groups mounted to the stage and performed. From two kindergarteners singing "The Muffin Man" to a solo performance on the xylophone, and from Ms. Sue, a member of the staff, serenading a student to the tone of "Shelter from the Rain" to five boys in the fourth and fifth grades keeping pace on washboards to the musical stylings of Dottie Timberlake on piano and Al Saunders on drums. The show included crowd-pleasing performances such as the second and third graders rendition of "I Feel Good," complete with a student James Brown look-a-like, impressive free-style dance moves, and several verses sung in French. The performers weren't the only ones dancing, as several performances inspired audience members to clap their hands and dance in the aisles. A contagious energy flowed through the room as faculty, staff, administrators and students came together to sing, dance and enjoy music.
"The music program at The Children's Guild is collaborative," says music instructor Al Saunders. "The teachers and the students learn together, perform together and explore their love of music together." Drawing on melodies from jazz, blues and rock, the music program offers students with another outlet in which to express themselves.
For Erin Riley, a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory and a member of the Baltimore Opera chorus, her first year with The Guild as a music instructor at the Chillum campus has allowed her to see firsthand how the students relate to music. Working with grades K-8, she teaches 13, 45-minute classes each week, instructing the students to read music and perform on drums and keyboards. "We are just wrapping up the big project of the year," says Erin. "Each class writes a class song, which they record through a Macintosh-program 'Garage Band.'"
Through projects like this, students are not only able to tap into their creativity, but also develop their independence. "Each student gets his or her own keyboard," comments Erin. "At the end of the year, each child performs a piece of his or her choice that they worked on in class. I was working with one of the children in the autistic program and really couldn't tell if he was getting it. I was really nervous when it came time for his performance because he still had not illustrated that he got it. He performed his piece perfectly, and ever sense has become more and more verbal in class. He's even featured four times on his class song." The music program provides children with an outlet to express themselves and experience new things. "At the end of each class, we listen to a music sample," explains Erin. "We play different types of music than what they are familiar with in their home environment; from classical or Indian hip-hop, the students gain an appreciation for new music and a larger world view of cultures. Even if these kids never pick up another instrument in their lives, the self-esteem and courage they develop in this music program very well might carry over into other parts of their lives."