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“One, two, three, four. Mallets down on the floor. Five, six, seven, eight. Hurry, don’t be late,” the kindergarten class at Dear Elementary chants as they move one instrument to their right and prepare to play again.
This is not your average elementary music class. When one enters Sarah Manning’s classroom, most of the children are sitting or kneeling on the floor, holding a set of mallets. In front of them are various Orff instruments that Manning has sorted into one of three categories: wood, metal or skins.
Wood refers to a xylophone-type instrument that has wooden bars that are struck with mallets. Metal refers to the metallophones, somewhat similar to a small set of bells or glockenspiel. Xylophone and metallophones are available in soprano, alto and bass. Glockenspiels are available in soprano and alto. Skins refer to the bongo-type small drums or djembe, African drum.
Manning has incorporated these instruments and the Mallet Madness method of teaching music to elementary children.
Artie Almeida is the creator of Mallet Madness. The program, published by Heritage Music Press, uses songs, poems, music-to-literature connections and reproducible flashcards to promote learning the concepts of beat, rhythm, melody, harmony, form and expressiveness. The unique rotation chants allow the students to play all of the mallet percussion instruments, as well as many of the non-pitched instruments.
The lingo/musical terminology is a mixture of easy, young child-friendly words and actual music terms. Manning had the following words on the wipe board for the children to become familiar with: rotate, hands together, alternate, glissando and tremolo.
As the class progressed, the children practiced what playing “hands together” (both hands strike the instrument at the same time) and “alternating” meant. They responded to Manning’s instruction to “mallets down,” by laying them on the floor for instruction. Sometimes the woods played, practicing both hands together and alternating mallets, then the metals, then the skins.
The children obviously enjoy the unique sounds of the individual instruments. When the bell rang, several requested, “just five more minutes, please.”
Carl and Dorothy Orff founded the Gunterschule (Gunther School) for gymnastics, music and dance in Munich, Germancy in 1924. Having received a handmade wooden xylophone as a gift from Africa as a child, Orff became interested in this instrument that had 12 bars of different pitches tied together with a string attached to the open side of a wooden box.
Using a variety of instruments, including recorders and the glockenspiel, he expanded his teaching methods to include the melodic barred instruments like the Indonesian gamelon, and soon added xylophones and metallophones, along with various skin percussion instruments.
The Gunterschule closed in 1944 when the Nazis confiscated it. The building was destroyed in an Allied bombing attack in 1945.
By the time Manning’s students advance to piano lessons or band when they are older, they will be familiar with basic music education and ready for the next step.
Photo: “So, how did you do that?” inquires Aiden McWilliams, left, as Lane Curtis concentrates on making his mallets strike the bars correctly. Quentin Calvert is pictured in the far left of the photo. (Photo by Brenda Jensen/The Daily News)