June 25, 2008

Yale Joins With Fourth-Graders to Put Music to Story

By Mark Brackenbury

By Alexandra Sanders Special to the Register

NEW HAVEN -- Trumpet-carrying Yale University students and crayon- wielding fourth-graders may seem like an unlikely combination, but when they get together, lives are changed.

Lincoln-Bassett elementary school recently held an innovative performance in which Yale University music school students put music to a book that the school's two fourth-grade classes wrote.

The students worked with Yale graduate and composer Jay Wadley to find fitting music for their story, titled "When the Brothers Unite."

"It was exciting because this presented an opportunity for them to explore music from different parts of the world," said Wadley.

The plot is about Spain and Algeria at war and includes assassinations of kings and evil henchmen.

The music, which has a Middle Eastern influence, punctuates shocking sentences with blaring notes, as long, low notes slowly snake around the story line until a resonating sound of jubilation at the end of the story when Spain and Algeria unite.

Students illustrated pictures to accompany the book. Detailed pictures of kings and boats surrounded by crayon scribbles depicting the sky were displayed on an overhead screen.

The performance was made possible by the Yale class of 1957. The class contributed more than $6 million to the music education program to help the New Haven public school system's music curriculum thrive.

The program has been brought to 20 different schools and has enabled the schools' music department expand its learning and teaching tools, said John Miller, project manager.

"We are so pleased they adopted us," said Ramona Gatison, Lincoln- Bassett principal.

"I have data to prove that this has changed the students," said Gatison. "It carries over into academics and social development. I realized I could really change some of the kids' behavior."

All fourth-grade students played a part in the project, but six students in particular wrote and illustrated the book. They stayed after school with art teachers and worked hard on it, Gatison said.

The six will receive a copy of the score and a CD.

"The kids who got involved really have a desire to write, a desire to create," said Gatison.

The kids described the performance with words like "cool" and "nice," and said that they learned something from the show.

"I thought it was good and I learned to always unite with siblings," said Ruth Escorbort, a fourth-grade student.

The students' excitement was clear when the composer gave them a pop-quiz where they had to match music to a scene in the story. Nearly 100 hands shot up in excitement.

"The kids really liked it and that's what is important," said Gatison, who ended the presentation dancing down the aisle to the beat of Lincoln-Basset students clapping along to the string quartet.

Alexandra Sanders is a New Haven Register intern.

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