Art, and now music, go to school

Laura Dishong, music director at Mary E. Roberts Elementary School, organizes the music trooping presentations.

The Art Goes to School program has worked to bring art education to George C. Baker and Mary E. Roberts elementary schools for the past 39 years. Expanding its efforts, the program has also come to include musical elements of art, involving a music trooping lesson that is given annually at two elementary schools.

“Music, like art, is one of the ‘right-brain’ creative subjects,” Laura Dishong, music director at Mary E. Roberts Elementary School, said. “Putting the two together gives the children a stronger taste of the creative experience.”

Laura Dishong gives instruction during her music trooping lesson at George C. Baker on Monday, March 6, part of the Art Goes to School program.

The music trooping lesson within the AGTS program, which was presented at George C. Baker on Monday, March 6 and at Mary E. Roberts on Monday, March 13, has been in place for more than a decade, and is now run under the direction of Dishong. When she first began teaching at Mary E. Roberts, the AGTS program had partnered with a local pianist who would volunteer her time to visit the schools and play musical selections for their students.

“She retired, and I was asked if I would be willing to help out. That was in 2009, and I’ve been doing this ever since,” Dishong said. “On my end, I study the 20 prints at the beginning of the school year and jot down notes for lesson ideas.”

She explained that, while some selections of music and corresponding pieces of artwork are easy to identify, others take more time to develop. Although she says the preparation usually takes her a total of 15 hours to complete, she has until March to make the final selections for her presentation.

“When [I’ve completed preparation], I present a workshop to the parents,” Deshong said. “I really enjoy sharing ideas, and having the parent volunteers offer their own ideas to the mix. [At that point] the music trooping starts to take on a life of its own, as a creative work should.”

In developing this creative mix, Dishong considers the year and geographical location in which each piece was made, and the mood of the painting. She also tries to find music that not only “fits” with a particular piece of art, but that is also kid-friendly. Furthermore, she believes children are kinesthetic learners and that it is imperative for them to move during periods of instruction to keep them engaged in learning, and thus she seeks to incorporate movement into her lesson plans.

Ultimately, after Dishong selects music to “correspond with the energy and theme of a particular painting,” children use this movement, while including the use of props — such as scarves or musical instruments — to convey the mood of the painting. Richelle Rabenou, district co-chair of the AGTS program, said she compares this educational experience to an actor acting out a scene in a play set to music, and poses the question to students, “How would you interpret the scene in the movie?”

“The music program is an exciting way for kids to connect art with music interpretation,” Rabenou said. “The children learn how to listen to the music pieces selected and to correspond to the mood of what a painting is trying to convey.”

“The Art Goes to School music portion is so fun because it brings together artists from different genres and shows the students how these worlds can overlap,” Samantha Ulman, the other district co-chair, added.

Examples of art and music trooping pairs Dishong selected this year included the work Cradling Wheat (1938) by Thomas Hart Benton paired with the American folk song “Weevily Wheat”; Clothespin (1976) by Claes Oldenburg paired with “That’s the Way I Like It” by KC and the Sunshine Band; Summertime (1967) by Romare Bearden with “Seabreeze” by Romare Bearden; Café (1940) by William H. Johnson with “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington; and more.

“The music helps to put the art into a different context,” Dishong said. “Hearing the music gives you a different idea of what was happening during the time period. Sometimes, it forces you to think about the art in a different way.”

Now that the elementary school’s have Smart Board technology in place, Dishong hopes her music trooping program will be able to add more multi-media activities to its lessons. She also wishes to add video and interactive gaming elements to her presentations as well.