Performing & Visual Arts
A Lifetime of Expression
The performing and visual arts are an integral part of the Lower School curriculum, when students discover and begin to develop the knowledge and proficiency that opens them to a lifetime of joyful and creative expression.
“Students make sense of the world in different ways, and it is so important for them to develop an appreciation for artistic disciplines and have the opportunity to express their emotions and ideas through different outlets, be it through a musical instrument, through dance, or through drawing,” says Lower School Director Amanda Pike.
Students in the Lower School Music program aren’t just learning how to read music for music class, but developing lifelong skills applicable across subjects alongside great educators who also happen to be impressive professional performers.
Music Teacher Carolyn Sloan is an award-winning author of several music books for children who began her career as a musician writing music for Off-Broadway productions, while Music Teacher Don Militello is a trained jazz pianist with decades of experience touring with groups like the Glen Miller Band.
“We’re trying to create independent thinkers,” says Sloan. “Lots of tenets of music can be applied across disciplines, because people who perform always have to evaluate their performance and think about what’s working and what could be better and pinpoint areas of improvement.”
By the time students complete fourth grade they are well versed in the foundational elements of music, from rhythm and melody, to reading music, to an appreciation for a wide range of genres. In the older grades, students gain confidence by performing in front of larger audiences, learning to use their voice as an instrument starting with choruses in second grade and having the opportunity to participate in an ensemble in third and fourth grades.
Even students as young as three and four are learning this type of independent thinking. Militello instructs PreK to first grade classes and in his classroom students learn through improvisation and composition. Technology helps them learn keyboard techniques thanks to an overhead camera and projector that each student can follow along with on their own instrument. Games and movement are also a critical component of their musical education.
“Mixing music with physical activity means students are working on listening while doing another activity, and being able to do two things at once is so important in music,” says Militello.
The visual arts begin in PreK classrooms and become a separate subject in Kindergarten. Teachers emphasize the critical elements of art through an exploration of mediums and tie learning to subjects the children are studying in other classes as much as possible, from an integrated Spanish project in first grade to building ceramic models of insects created in Science in fourth grade.
Art Teacher Phaedra Mastrocola has worked to reimagine the visual arts curriculum for students. Bringing a background in graphic design and education, including teaching at the Pratt Institute for Art and Design Education, Mastrocola says students leave the Lower School with a steadfast realization of the power of art and artists.
“Students get a sense of the value of art and understand how powerful art can be as a tool for expression and how it can be used as a communications device,” she says.
In the later grades, students look at the work of professional artists and think about the messages conveyed to an audience. They apply that work in a fourth grade project studying poster campaigns like Rosie the Riveter and the Obama “Hope” poster, deconstructing the elements that made them successful, and then designing their own as part of their Social Studies work on activism.
This type of project based learning is at the heart of the visual arts program. Students are excited to learn new techniques and work with new tools through artistic challenges, and then have the opportunity to reflect on their work through a process called Studio Habits of Mind, created by Harvard University’s Project Zero.
Every grade in the Lower School participates in the dance program, learning the basics of movement like jazz steps, studying the works of great dancers like José Limón and Isadora Duncan, and eventually choreographing their own performances.
Dance Teacher Vanessa Paige began dancing at the age of nine and later joined the acclaimed eba Dance Theater, performing throughout the world, and which in 2018 recognized Paige for 30 years of innovation and excellence in choreography and education.
“My job is to instill a love and enjoyment of movement in students,” says Paige, whose lively classes help children learn to control their bodies through various techniques while also providing opportunities to use creative movements. “The idea is when it’s time to move creatively, to be a leaf or make up a jazz dance, children, whether they’re three years old or nine years old, have a toolkit to work with.”
That toolkit, in dance as well as music and the visual arts, stays with students long after they leave the Lower School.
“These kids are learning skills today that enrich their lives in wonderful ways, but also provide them with the skills they will need in Middle and Upper School,” Pike says. “The program is thoughtfully sequenced so kids are ready to jump into all the arts offerings when they arrive at Lincoln Place.”