Classical music performances in Vermont have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sorry, but watching a concert on my iMac just doesn’t do it. Fortunately, myriad live concerts begin to sprout in July and the fall is starting to look promising.
But what about music education? Going back and forth between classroom and Zoom learning has been limiting. But one of Vermont’s foremost music organizations is about to help out.
Scrag Mountain Music, based in Marshfield, has created inventive curricula for all ages through high school, designed for teachers, home schooling parents and even individual students. And it’s free through the end of the 2020-21 school year, thanks to the Cummins-Levenstein Charitable Foundation and the Sinex Education Foundation.
“Normally, we would be doing this in the schools here,” explained Mary Bonhag, co-artistic director with her husband, Evan, of Scrag Mountain Music. “So, like everything, we had to reimagine what offering support to teachers would look like this year.”
Scrag is offering two programs: “How Instruments Tell a Story: Thumbelina,” with lesson plans and materials for pre-K-grade 5 students; and “Intersections of Music and Mindfulness: Rumi Songs,” virtual interactive performances for middle and high school students.”
“How Instruments Tell a Story” focuses on the musical storytelling work “Thumbelina,” a work Premo composed for flutes, clarinets, bassoon, double bass, and singer, set to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale that premiered in 2020.
“Evan really imagined this being a piece to be used in schools and to be used by music teachers. That was very intentional for him,” Bonhag said. She was the featured soprano.
“When I was growing up it was the same kind of thing with Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and Saint-Saëns’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’ — listening to them and then using them as tools for learning.”
Teachers who register for this offering will receive three sets of lesson plans and worksheets — geared specifically for youth ages pre-K-K, grades 1-2 and 3-5) — audio and video of Premo’s “Thumbelina,” supplementary informational and engagement videos highlighting each instrument, and the opportunity for students to send questions to the composer.
“The videos for ‘Thumbelina’ are really important because they introduce the students to musical concepts and terms,” Bonhag said, “and start getting them thinking about being a composer and what kind of decisions do composers make?”
That leads to the last day of the lessons, which is a composition project.
“It’s tailored to the different age levels,” Bonhag said. “Each age level ends up creating, as a group or a class, a kind of composition. That becomes a very satisfying culminating project, I think, because they get to put on that composer hat and practice the skills that they’ve learned.”
Elizabeth Carlson, music teacher at Thatcher Brook Elementary School in Waterbury, co-created the learning materials.
“It has been so incredibly helpful and fun to work together on it,” Bonhag said. “She’s our expert on the skill levels of the different grades. We have 6- and 8-year-olds, but we wouldn’t have been nearly as on target if we hadn’t worked with Elizabeth.”
The program is adaptable to different schools with supplementary materials available.
“The other cool thing about this curriculum is that it’s really adaptable for remote learning,” Bonhag said. “We were designing it for remote use this year — and also for parents doing home schooling. It’s really, really user-friendly.”
The second offering, “Intersections of Music and Mindfulness: Rumi Songs,” is a virtual interactive performance experience for middle and high school students led by Bonhag, soprano, and Premo, double bass and composer.
The program, which includes live and pre-recorded content, centers around Premo’s “Rumi Songs.” The work for double bass and soprano sets the poetry of 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī, whose poems speak to connections between body, mind, Earth and spirit.
During these highly individualized virtual sessions, Premo and Bonhag will guide students through how poetry, music and the concept of “Deep Listening” can inspire mindfulness. This live interactive offering for groups of 15 may have limited availability.
“Evan is actually going to be scheduling and leading classes with the video recording that we have done,” Bonhag said. “He is going to lead the classes through an interactive performance that really brings mindfulness and music and the practice of ‘Deep Listening,’ which he has offered to our Scrag audiences for the past few months.
“I think it will meet the middle and high school students where they are in their development,” Bonhag said.
These programs are both innovative and professional in quality, no surprise to those who follow Scrag Mountain Music, founded by Bonhag and Premo in 2010. The 501©3 nonprofit offers world-class chamber music to communities throughout Vermont through “pay what you can” public performances, school and community engagement programs, pop-up concerts, and other accessible musical offerings. Six to eight times a season, Scrag invites guest artists to participate in week-long artistic residencies in Vermont, comprising rehearsals, community engagement programs and public performances.
And they’re among the best in Vermont.