All the School’s a Stage: Performing Arts at ISB

News · February 14, 2018

ISB’s performing arts curriculum emphasizes creativity and exploration from its beginning in Nursery music through its finale in 8th Grade. What does this mean in the classroom? How does the curriculum build from our Preschool music program through our Middle School Performing Arts program? How does performance arts at ISB integrate into our curriculum, and how does the program reflect ISB’s core values? ISB Teachers Melanie Cozzi and Mariko Watt sat down to answer these questions and to highlight the many ways performing arts enrich the student experience at ISB.

“Music is a unique form of expression. Many students can benefit from expressing themselves through music in that way that they cannot through other mediums.” - Melanie


The arts are central to ISB’s holistic inquiry-based curriculum, and the Performing Arts program begins when our youngest students enter school, in Nursery. Throughout Preschool, music classes focus on the basic foundations of music: moving, listening, singing, using musical props, and doing creative and choreographed movement. In Kindergarten, students start to learn about contrasting musical ideas such as high and low, soft and loud, fast and slow.

As they move into 1st and 2nd Grade, they are introduced to reading music and playing ORFF instruments. They also launch into music studies, looking at larger works of music and gaining perspective about what that these pieces mean to them personally. Students listen to music, talk about what the music means to them and to their classmates. “For example, we may discuss how music can be emotional. We might ask, ‘how can you tell what emotion is being conveyed?’ Students share their impressions and we talk about how there is no one correct answer, that music can mean different things to different people. This is another way for them to empathize with one another, to understand other people’s perspectives.”  

As they enter 3rd Grade, music studies deepen, and students begin to learn more about the historical contexts of music pieces. They are also introduced to more techniques on the ORFF instruments and begin to play the recorder.

In 4th and 5th Grade, music class incorporates more difficult rhythms, and students begin to explore beats and measures. They also start to sight read and use solfège (a musical education method used to teach pitch). Band begins in 4th Grade, and many of our students participate as a way to deepen their music education. In addition to becoming more technical, music education at this level also becomes more contextualized. “Before we start learning any song, we discuss where the song comes from, why is it important, and what sort of instruments are used.”

Throughout the program, Melanie and Mariko look for ways to tie music education back to the units of inquiry and the curriculum.

“In Lower School, I will always try to connect as much as possible to the current unit of inquiry. For example, during the 2nd Grade unit on Outer Space, we listen to Gustav Holst’s The Planets and discuss how the students think the different movements were created represent each of the planets. Next, the 2nd Graders will be writing their own raps about the planets in the solar system. In this way, they are taking a musical concept and working on it within in the context of their unit of inquiry. For another example, 3rd Grade is studying Oral Traditions, so we are discussing how music is passed on traditionally, with a particular focus on African and African American communities.” - Melanie

In 4th and 5th Grade, this connection can lead to discussions about protest songs and the role they played in movements around the world. “Our students explore what it means for something to be a song of protest and discuss what songs today might be considered protest songs because of their point of view.” - Mariko

As they move into Middle School, students are exposed much more to the historical context of music. Each unit begins with the history of a genre or style of music and a look at how that has changed over time. Another significant shift is that the music that Middle Schoolers perform is more choral-based, and the theater arts component of the curriculum greatly expands. Some performances take place in class, while others are open to groups of other students or parents. 6th Graders start with individual monologues.

“For this project, they figure out what’s important to the performance: story arc and character development. From there we move to one-act performance which are student directed.” - Mariko

In 7th Grade, students dive into technical theatre. When they put on their Shakespearean performance, they not only act and direct, but they are also responsible for all the stage management, house management, set design, costuming, and staging. In 8th Grade, students take their favorite fairy tales, rewrite them as scripts for a children’s theatre play, and direct and perform the stories for Lower School students. By the time our students graduate from from ISB, they not only have experience with directing and performing; they have also been introduced to every element of a performance, from set design, to costuming and make-up, to staging.

What's next for ISB's Performing Arts Program?

“We would love to see some more cross-divisional work and more ties between grades, as we have already with the band. These cross-divisional interactions are important because they showcase students’ growth throughout the program, and they allow younger students what they can aspire to as they move on to the upper grades.” - Melanie

“We want to give students even more opportunities to perform, whether it’s during an assembly or at an evening event for parents. Many of our students are already performing outside of school, and this would be a way for them to showcase their work and their talents to our school community.” - Mariko

We look forward to watching ISB’s performing arts program continue to grow, and we can’t wait to see our students’ creativity on display at the many upcoming performances this spring.