Performing Arts

At Dorchester School, Inclusion Through Art

By Andrea Smardon   |   Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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Students at the Henderson School practice the "Earth Dance" during a movement class. In the background, teacher Cynthia Archibald looks on. (WGBH)

BOSTON — A public elementary school is Dorchester is getting international attention this week. Policy makers and educators from 17 countries are coming to Boston as part of a conference focused on using the arts to improve the education of students with disabilities. 
As part of the event, the conference is highlighting the work of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School for its pioneering work incorporating the arts into its classrooms. 

A classroom at the Henderson School, a full-inclusion Dorchester elementary school that emphasizes the arts as a learning tool. (WGBH)

Tim Archibald is a professional musician, but he looks more like a gym teacher in his warm up pants. And he seems poised to jump into action at any moment.

In his office, which doubles as a supply closet for student drama productions, he seems pretty confident about today’s big project for the second graders, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony arranged for xylophones.

“Last week we did Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, today we’re really upping it and we’re moving to Beethoven’s 9th,” Archibald said. “The idea of being able to move from a traditional simple lullaby to something you might learn in Symphony Hall is ah… we’ll see how we do, right?”
In class, a couple dozen students are eager to work on the piece. In one corner, a student drops his head onto the desk. A teacher’s aid works to get him on task. The aid himself has cystic fibrosis -- as well as perfect pitch.
Overall, about one third have special needs ranging from severe disabilities to minor learning impairments, but in some cases, it’s hard to tell which ones.
“Often times people from the outside come in and they say which are the students with the disabilities because they’re all learning together in the same classroom, that’s the whole idea,” Archibald said.
“In our world, people have all sorts of different success rates at being able to do different tasks and being able to learn different things. I think the Henderson Inclusion School kind of reflects the way of the world.”
Before approaching the xylophones, the students worked on keyboards with technology that allows each to work at their own pace. A second-grader demonstrates how the keyboard calls out numbers to get her back on track if she misses a note. The correct keys light up as she plays.  
Archibald says the keyboard can provide as much or as little support as you need. This, he says, is the essence of how teachers at the Henderson design all of their curriculum. And it’s how students at different levels with different learning styles are able to learn in a classroom together. It’s a method called Universal Design for Learning.

Students at the Henderson school play outside during their recess period. (WGBH)

“This type of universal design, here it is in an electronic instrument, but it can be built into the thought process of how you develop curriculum for students to learn,” Archibald explained.
William Henderson was the first principal at the school, and the man for whom the school is named. He himself is blind, and says working with disabled students requires creativity.
“When you have kids who do not read regular print, whether it be because of blindness, learning disabilities, or cognitive delays, or because they have difficulty holding a book because of physical disabilities, you find other ways of accessing information.” 
The school was originally founded 22 years ago in partnership with VSA Massachusetts, a state chapter of a national organization on arts and disability. Henderson says the artists hired and trained by VSA have been helping the school find new approaches to learning.
“We found that the arts engage children, it embellished the curriculum, brought life to social studies. So that children talking about the Boston Tea Party, in addition to writing and reading about it, they’re doing role plays, they’re making murals, they’re doing poetry,” Henderson said.
Henderson said that makes the learning experience richer. “It’s something that the children remember a lot more, and both teaching and learning are more fun and a lot more meaningful.”
As it turns out, Henderson says, this approach to learning benefits all students, not just those with special needs. In the school auditorium, visual artist Mary Dechico is working on a backdrop for the school production of “Singing in the Rain.” She’s a parent with two students at the Henderson school.  
“I’m going to cry the day my older son leaves here. He loves it. He’s usually above the curve in his learning, but he just adores this place,” Dechico said. “He loves all the different kids, he’s grown up with these children, in the same classroom, doing the same things. It’s part of life, I feel likes it’s just so nice to see him approach the world that way.”

Students are seen in movement class. (WGBH)

Back in music class, the students are making progress on Beethoven’s 9th.  Within a half hour, they’ve learned to play the first two lines as a group.  Eight-year-old Grace Kiwaunaka says she takes piano lessons at home so it’s easy for her, but she thinks the class is doing a fine job.
“Everyone does it really well, and everyone has a different way of doing it, but they all do it really well even though it’s different,” Kiwaunaka said.

Pianist Yaron Kohlberg

Thursday, September 9, 2010
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Perform Your Own Circus Tricks

Thursday, October 28, 2010
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Ever wanted to be a circus performer, or just looking for new ways to entertain your friends and family? Learn how to perform these tricks with this collection of DIY tips, brought to you from the cast of Circus. Watch Circus beginning Wednesday, Nov 3 at 9pm on WGBH 2 (view clips and schedules).

How to Do a Handstand

Some circus acrobats seem as comfortable walking on their hands as they do on their feet. Big Apple Circus performer Christian Stoinev shows students the basics of the handstand and provides a few tips for getting started.

How to Juggle

Juggling in the circus takes years of practice, so why not get started now? Learn juggling basics from master juggler Jake LaSalle. He demonstrates how to build up from juggling one ball to three.

How to Make a Clown Face

What would the circus be without clowns? Big Apple Circus clown Glen Heroy gives you some tips and ideas for creating your own clown face.

How to Train a Dog at Home

Training dogs like Luciano Anastasini takes patience and good rapport with our canine companions. In this video, students can learn to teach their dogs simple tricks by observing and rewarding their behavior.

How to Walk a Tightrope

Walking the tightrope requires focus and balance, but anyone can do it. Wire walker Sarah Schwarz demonstrates the basics of tightrope walking. With patience and practice, students can learn to balance like the pros.

Harpist Jessica Zhou

Thursday, October 28, 2010
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Oct. 11: Till Fellner

By Brian McCreath   |   Friday, October 8, 2010
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Till Fellner, the Austrian pianist, is returning to Boston for the Boston Conservatory's superb Piano Masters Series, and there was a mention of him as well last week in an article about his teacher, Alfred Brendel, in the Boston Globe.  He's known for a pristine approach that, for many, directly channels the essence of a composer's music.  In fact, that's the reaction, almost verbatim, of a friend of mine when he heard this performance by Till Fellner in our Fraser Performance Studio.  Enjoy, and be sure to tune in every Thursday evening at 7pm for Live from Fraser, or just enjoy each episode on demand.  (Photo:  Monika Groser)

Oct. 10: Mahler's Roommate

By James David Jacobs   |   Friday, October 8, 2010
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You may have noticed that we're playing a lot of Mahler this weekend on 99.5. I hope you heard the live Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of the Symphony No. 2 last night, and later on today, you'll have the chance to hear the remarkable Kiri Te Kanawa with the BSO in the Symphony No. 4.  Then, on Sunday Concert, Pierre Boulez leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Symphony No. 7.

So in light of all that, on Sunday Brunch, I wanted to add a sort of footnote to this mini-festival by playing the Symphony in E major by Hans Rott. Rott was two years older than Mahler; the two of them attended the Vienna Conservatory at the same time and briefly roomed together. Rott was the son of two actors; his mother died when he was two and his father died when he was eighteen, leaving him financially destitute. Fortunately, he was accepted to the Conservatory on full scholarship.

Bruckner was Rott's organ teacher and thought very highly of him, but that high opinion of Rott was not shared by the rest of the faculty. Rott wrote this symphony at the ages of 20-21, when he was still a student; in 1878 he submitted the first movement of the work to the school's yearly composition competition, where the work was roundly derided. In 1880 he sought out advice from Brahms, who told Rott in no uncertain terms that he had no talent for music. It's probably understandable that the experience of one of history's greatest composers passing this kind of judgement was beyond traumatic for Rott, and it may have even played a role in his mental breakdown later that year.  While on a train, he pulled a revolver on a fellow passenger who was trying to light a cigar, telling him that Brahms had filled the train with dynamite and the passenger's match would set it off. He was soon committed to a mental institution, and after a few unhappy years died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.

Mahler actually thought very highly of his onetime roommate and his symphony: "It is completely impossible to estimate what music has lost in him.  His Symphony soars to such heights of genius that it makes him - without exaggeration - the Founder of the New Symphony as I understand it. It is true that he has not fully realized his aims here. It is like someone taking a run for the longest possible throw and not quite hitting the mark. But I know what he was driving at. Indeed, he is so near to my inmost self that he and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree which the same soil has produced and the same air nourished."  You might detect that similarity between the two artists upon hearing Rott's symphony, in which there are pre-echoes of several Mahler works.  (Some critics have even accused Mahler of plagiarism, like conductor Paavo Järvi.)

I, however, prefer to think that Mahler's echoes of Rott were a conscious tribute to his friend who had such a tragically short life; one could even make the argument that Rott is the hero of Mahler's work, and the subject of his funeral marches. Today at 10:00 we'll hear the symphony by the musicians who gave the world premiere of this work (in 1989!): The University of Cincinnati's superb Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Gerhard Samuel.

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