Grade 4 Creates Pure Joy on Xylophones

Anyone walking by Lower School the other day may have heard some serene sounds and witnessed a uniquely joyous Poly moment.

Joy is a word that is universally connected with Lower School music teacher Jennifer Nelson P’12, ’14, ’19. So, it is not a surprise that a video of Nelson’s Grade 4 music class playing  “Balafon” by Walt Hampton on xylophones on the front steps of the Park Slope building delighted everyone who saw it.

“That video seems to have resonated with the world,” Nelson said. “The response has been incredibly moving.”

Like all teachers, Nelson is adapting to the world of socially distanced instruction, which has special considerations for music. “Every day of teaching right now is different and reliant on improvisation,” Nelson said. “The fourth graders learned that piece in their classrooms, in their pods, on small glockenspiels over two weeks. On the last Friday of their two-week music special, Casa Mahes, part of the maintenance team, and I brought down our incredible collection of Orff instruments after lunch and recess and the whole grade quickly found places on the stairs outside. We played together for 15 minutes and then all the instruments had to be taken back upstairs and put away before dismissal. We were a crackerjack unit.”

“Every day of teaching right now is different and reliant on improvisation.”

Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson P’12, ’14, ’19

“With the right instruments and enough space,” Nelson said, “music is an ideal subject to teach while six feet apart and in masks. We can still hear one another and everyone has their own instrument. In music, the challenge is always listening well enough to feel the beat together, keep the rhythms tight, remember the form of the music and express the music truthfully from the heart. We have to all feel the music together.”  

Nelson hopes to teach outside more often with the lower grades whose classrooms are closer to the building exits. Stephen Taylor, who teaches Nursery – Kindergarten classes, has found some spots outside for his music classes.

It is good to have instruments to share music because the children are not allowed to sing together. “We miss it terribly!” Nelson said. “Thank goodness for drums, percussion, ukuleles and xylophones!”