Marla Baldwin, who has been a music teacher for nearly 20 years and at Palmer Middle in Kennesaw for 12 years, said she attended a leadership conference over the summer where she learned that the state’s new core curriculum encourages educators to incorporate a “deeper understanding” of all subject areas in each course.
“I went to the Booth Western Art Museum with my family and had the idea to teach the skills of chorus to the standards while giving them a better understanding of the curriculum if I related it to the art work,” she said.
Between her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade choral programs, which consist of about 230 students in all, Baldwin taught students historical songs that coincided with art pieces at the museum.
Throughout the month of October, each class visited the museum and performed the songs in front of various exhibits.
“I have become the learner just as much as my students because I had to do the research along with them to discover what songs we should sing and how they relate to history,” she said. “It was really a process that my students and I went on together.”
In sixth grade, students learned about the cowboy era and were taught the song “Old Chisholm Trail,” which was an actual pass where cowboys took on their way to the market with cows.
“Cowboys were motivated by music to stay awake at night while caring for the cattle,” she explained. “It’s how they would pass the time.”
She pulled the piece from a music book written in 1911.
“It was right after the cowboy era was coming to an end,” Baldwin said. “We didn’t just sing a modern day version of the piece, we went back to the 1911 book and sang it how the cowboys would have sung it.”
Seventh-grade students, who learned about Native American culture, sang a song taught by one of the museums historians Jim Dunham.
“When he was growing up, he was acclimated into a Native American tribe,” Baldwin said. “He taught us songs that he learned directly from the Native Americans.”
Baldwin said she hopes that in learning these songs, her students become historians because with no one else knowing the songs Dunham taught them, they are “documenting the songs for the future.”
“By us learning it, we’re continuing to pass down the culture of these songs,” she said.
The eighth-grade students learned about hand-written letters from each U.S. president and were taught patriotic songs.
“We sang the song that was sung at President George Washington’s inauguration, ‘Ode to George Washington,’” she said. “It was based on the tune of ‘God Save the Queen.’ Our country was hardly a country yet so often times they would use melodies that they already knew and would rewrite the words.”
They sang this piece while flying small flags and standing in front of a 21-foot wide painting of all the presidents from the 20th century.
Baldwin said this way of teaching is different because the students didn’t just learn a song; they learned the history of that song and were able to see artwork associated with the time periods they sang about.
“I’ve always had a passion to teach them how to sing but by taking it to this next level, I was still able to accomplish my expectation to teach them how to sing well,” she said. “It’s a unique concept but we’re hoping that other schools adopt it or at least experiment with ways to deepen the learning of all students and tie it all together so that music can relate to other subjects.”
She also said she believed the students enjoyed the new way of learning because it “linked them with cultures from a long time ago.”
“I think my students are now more able to see how music can affect all areas of their life,” Baldwin said.
Tom Shinall with the Bartow County museum said having the students perform made their visits “extra special.”
“They brought the history of the artwork to life through their songs,” he said. “To see the artwork while hearing their voices fill the galleries was inspiring.”