Arts For Learning Indiana

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Notes to Notes in Johnson County

By: Spring Intern Brooke Davis


In mid-April, poet Julie Patterson walked into a classroom full of fourth graders and said, “Someone told me this is the place where I would find all the good writers.  Is that true?”

Mrs. Bennis’ class nodded in eager unison.

Thus began the five-week Notes to Notes residency at Needham Elementary School in Franklin.  The object of the residency was to help students see the ways in which poetry and jazz music are related, and the ways that poetry and jazz can inspire each other.

Day one focused imagery.  In the same way a poem inspires images in the mind, Julie reminded the kids that music can inspire vivid images as well.  She played different clips from jazz songs, and many of the kids described noir scenes the music conjured in their heads.  They jotted down their thoughts about car chases and dark alleyways, while others went in entirely different directions, writing about their dogs or running through airport terminals.

Day two brought excitement for the entire fourth grade—they had the opportunity to watch a performance by Lawrence Clark and the Old School Trio, a group of professional jazz musicians.  Afterwards, Mrs. Bennis’s class was treated to a special Q & A session with the group, which allowed them to connect what they already knew about jazz to people with plenty of experience in the field.  The kids were very excited to see the music that inspired the poetry they were writing in class, and many rushed forward afterwards to get autographs in their poetry notebooks.

Days three and four taught the students about craft, both in jazz and poetry.  Julie explained what is referred to in jazz as a melody line, which is a line that is often repeated in a song.  Students picked out interesting lines in their poetry and learned about the ways repetition can be useful.

While poetry and music obviously rely heavily on sound, the students also learned the benefits of silence, which can be created by pauses in jazz and by line breaks in poetry.  Students made deliberate choices about where they wanted readers to pause in their poems, based on the sound or emphasis they intended to get across their readers.

The last day demonstrated one more similarity between jazz and poetry, which is that both are meant to be enjoyed aloud.  Students got to stand up in front of the room, just like a professional poetry reading, and display for the class the progress they made over the course of the residency.  The development of their poems suggested a deeper understanding of the mechanics that go into writing.  Once they learned to think like poets, they became poets themselves!

Julie had this to say about the Notes to Notes Residency:

“My favorite thing about this residency is that, like a jazz performance, it’s never exactly the same. It isn’t scripted. I come to the classroom with some ideas about how I think jazz and poetry are alike, and some goals for what I want to teach, but what ultimately takes place in the classroom is more of a collaboration with the students. I use what they notice about the music and poems, plus what they already know about writing, to try to create a new experience and understanding of literature. It keeps me on my toes and stretches my own understanding of poetry, too.”

June 2, 2014

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