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Elmo Learns the Drums, With Help from Teachers College

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Elmo

Elmo from Sesame Street

“Sesame Street” Episode Features Music Education Students and Pedagogy of Their Prof

This past August PBS (WNET Channel 13) aired a new episode in which Elmo, the fuzzy red children’s icon on Sesame Street, displayed his new rhythmic chops. Two of TC Professor Lori Custodero’s students – pianist Patrice Turner and saxophonist Josh Renick – appeared on-screen. Custodero, consultant for Lincoln Center’s Very Young People’s Concert Series, didn’t – but her ideas and commentary informed the entire episode, which resulted from the show’s producers watching rehearsals of the VYPC and the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s WeBOP! programs held at Columbia University’s Head Start center in Washington Heights.

“Young children’s music making could be defined as ‘uncultivated expertise,’” writes Custodero, coordinator of the College’s Music and Music Education, in a paper titled “Living Jazz, Learning Jazz.” “Described by professional musicians I’ve interviewed as ‘raw’ and ‘ancestral,’ it reflects a certain closeness to the essence of musical meaning.”

The show repeated on WNET, WLIW Channel 21 and NJN in New Jersey on throughout the month.

 Many researchers have explored how music influences brain development, but Custodero -- a self described “musician-teacher-researcher” who draws heavily from psychological sources -- says she is more interested in “how music relates to human development overall – how it socializes us, regulates us, helps us get through the day. Because you can’t get away from it – even when you’re practicing an instrument alone, music is social, a shared experience.”

“Social scientists have shown that people are most motivated and engaged in activities that present them with significant challenges, but in which they also are highly skilled,” says Custodero, who along with TC music education faculty member Harold Abeles is co-editing a new volume on the foundational frameworks of music education, which will be published next fall by Oxford University Press. “That balance puts them in a ‘state of flow’ in which learning is engaged because the experience is providing them with immediate feedback so that they know how to adjust their contributions in order to meet the perceived goal; such actions are important because they have discernable consequences, in the sense that, say, if I sing the correct pitches with a tone that blends with others, I can hear that the whole choir sounds the way we want it to.”

“And that has important implications for teaching. Because if we don’t teach in a way that gives people some kind of agency in their own learning, they’re not going to experience the personal and scholarly rewards of being fully engaged. The goal, as a teacher is in some sense to make yourself obsolete.”

Many of Custodero’s studies center on observing the musical behavior of children – but more recently, she also has become interested in how teaching music to children changes not only the teaching styles but also the performance approach of adult musicians.

“In the Very Young People’s Concert Series, fifteen members of the Philharmonic do performances for children at Merkin Hall and also engage in more intimate, small group musical activities with them,” she says. “I’ve been interviewing the adult musicians for the past three years about why they do it and what they get out of it. I’m also interviewing guest musicians for WeBOP! And I’m learning that the experience profoundly influences them as well, though in slightly different ways.’”

In July, Custodero presented some of her findings on adult musicality at the biannual conference of the International Society for Music Education, which was held this year in Bologna, Italy. Custodero is a past chair of the Society’s Early Childhood Commission.

She was also joined by Jeanne Goffi-Fynn (lecturer), Patricia St. John (adjunct assistant professor) and Faye Timmer (doctoral student and director of the music program at Head Start) who also presented in the symposium.


 

 

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