- The parts to the piece should be taught to one member of each section. For example, teach (by rote) the viola part to one violist from the section.
- That student then teaches the part to another student in the viola section. Continue this until all members of the viola section know the part. Repeat this with each section of the string orchestra.
- Have the students experiment with different pairings of parts. For example: “Let’s hear the viola part and the cello part.”
- Experiment with having one instrument play in support of the other, thus forming impromptu duets. For example: “Let’s play those two parts together and have the cello support the viola.” Experiment with switching the instruments roles.
- Have the students compose their own arrangement of the song. Access the Google drive in the notes section for an example of a possible arrangement 12.
- Include the new original arrangement as a song of thanksgiving on a concert or performance.
A project like this one is valuable for many reasons. Firstly, the students are introduced to music from a culture whose narrative is told through a very narrow lens. By incorporating songs from a country like South Africa, the students’ minds are expanded by incorporating this music into their knowledge base. Incorporating repertoire like this into a string orchestra’s repertoire greatly expands the breadth of what moods, styles and melodic/rhythmic approaches that students might expect to be exposed to in such an ensemble. It is a chance to reimagine what the middle school orchestra includes in its bag of tricks, so to speak.
Additionally, the students get the opportunity to explore different types of “musicking” and learning. By learning the piece by rote from one another in Step 2, they experience a sense of sharing and community that they would not have had if they learned the piece from a printed piece of sheet music distributed by the director. It is a chance to develop aural skills without administering dry dictation exercises and quizzes.
Step 3 allows for the students to experiment with instrumentation by means of singling out two voices from the orchestration and hearing what sounds result from such experimentation.
Step 4 of the activity allows for the students to experiment with accompanying and lead voices by giving them the chance to sit in either position of that pairing. Violists are commonly playing accompanying roles but violinists do not. Take the opportunity to have the violinists play a supportive part while another instrument plays a more prominent or melodic role.
Steps 5 and 6 are very exciting for students as it allows a space for them to play the role of composer and also to operate within a democratic group in which each individual voice matters. This can be structured in any number of ways, but it should be done so that all student voices are heard and their ideas incorporated in some part of the final arrangement. This is a type of exercise rarely done in orchestras and by its omission, does an injustice to orchestral students. Modern musicians should be able to think creatively about music and its composition, and to value their own opinions on such matters. Through the study of music composition, students learn about making decisions with sound, communicating those ideas, trying them out in real time and then assessing the results. This is normally an activity one might associate with a music composition course or a performing group like jazz band. There is no reason why orchestral string students should not be exposed to these rewarding challenges and group activities. It is not only an important creative exercise but it also creates a sense of community and a feeling of ownership over the repertoire put forth by the ensemble at performances.