Northwest Folklife introduces children to music, arts, and culture. When children are Festival performers we see them developing confidence and skills. We wondered what more take-aways and benefits children might experience with the opportunity to share their artistic and cultural practices through their own performances.
John Leder’s Ukulele Olio students took part in the Ukenalia Showcase on Monday May 29 at the Exhibition Hall during the 46th Northwest Folklife Festival. The Thorton Creek Elementary School students joined SUPA – Seattle Ukulele Players Association with Neil Diamond on the Ukulele, and The Castaways – Seattle’s Loudest Ukulele Band.
Here, John shares his insights on how his young musicians experience the opportunity to perform and share the Ukenalia Showcase with experienced adult ukulelists.
Thornton Creek Elementary is an alternative, expedition based learning environment, with a focus on the arts and performance. The opportunity for 2nd and 3rd graders playing the ukulele at the Northwest Folklife Festival is a BIG DEAL for them and a wonderful opportunity for the teachers to involve their students in a community of performance outside of the school. It’s usually the kid’s first opportunity to perform on a public stage outside of the school. We focus at least as much on the etiquette and discipline needed to be good citizens both backstage and on stage as we do on the performance itself. I also use it as an opportunity to teach and emphasize the need for and to demonstrate how to perform within our given time limits so that all other groups assigned to a given set get their full time on stage. In addition, it is an opportunity to teach kids about adapting music that they are learning in other classes to something that can actually be played on the ukulele and performed on stage – a big surprise when we don’t do something exactly the way the singing teacher does. While I, as the ukulele teacher, am responsible for developing the program and teaching the kids the songs that will be played, the classroom teachers incorporate the teaching moments in their classroom curriculum. Thornton Creek is unique in that ukulele is an element of the daily curriculum in which the teachers are directly involved, not an after school program. Finally, as the ukulele teacher I ask for and welcome input and ideas from the students on what we do, so this gives them a chance to develop their own sense of artistic expression – sometimes we have a little bit too much democracy :), but what a great learning experience. This is why we are always eager to get an opportunity to perform at Folklife. Oh, and the kids love getting the performer buttons!
Among other things I am president of SUPA, and personally know two of the members of The Castaways, one of whom is the SUPA secretary. My Thornton Creek kids all know this, and it makes it even easier for me to emphasize and teach things like stage timing, backstage behavior, etc. They are not phased by playing in the Ukenalia Showcase with the others because we prep them well for this. I even get to add a little humor in regard to making mistakes. I always teach them how to respond to mistakes that might occur on stage and I do a post-performance analysis with the kids on this. The best musicians among them can tell me exactly what mistakes were made and how we moved through them. Another great take-away.
So yes, there are lots of take-aways for both students and faculty. We look forward to having the opportunity to perform at Folklife, and hope that other youth organizations might have the same.
Thank you for performing dear Ukulele Olio students, and for your leadership John Leder!
Thank you to our Friends of Folklife for the opportunities that your donations create.