CSO connects to classrooms through science-inspired musical projects

Civic Orchestra Fellow Midori Samson takes questions from a Pickard Elementary student following a performance.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

The CSO-Connect Curriculum Program brings CPS teachers from arts and non-arts classrooms together to develop lessons tied to a yearly theme and orchestral repertoire featured in a CSO School Concert. Teachers in this professional learning community regularly attend workshops where they share their expertise and collaboratively work on improving teaching skills. In addition, teams of musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago Fellowship program visit all CSO-Connect partner schools. During these visits, they collaborate with students on music composition projects that focus on the program’s main idea. This collaborative process is then showcased at the Connect culminating event, where the fellows join the students to perform these original music compositions.

The CSO-Connect Culminating Event provides the opportunity for students from seven CPS elementary schools to showcase the work they created while exploring this year’s theme “Curiosity Leads to Empathy.”

During the 2017/18 school year, this theme was examined through the repertoire featured in the CSO’s Let’s Explore! school concert. The mid-March concert was supported by a partnership with The Field Museum of Natural History, who helped to cultivate teacher and student curiosity and developed an understanding of the cyclical nature of inquiry.

On Wednesday, May 9, students and teachers participating in the CSO-Connect School Partnership Program gathered together at Disney Magnet School to celebrate their amazing work exploring and creating projects that were inspired by the idea that curiosity leads to empathy.

Over the school year, students witnessed curiosity at work in many different places: at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Let’s Explore School Concert in March, the Civic Fellows Ensemble performances in February, and where the exploration all began on a cold January day – The Field Museum of Natural History.

This year, the Connect Program piqued students’ curiosities about the infamous four-note motif in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the different ways orchestral instruments can mimic the sounds of rain and rushing water, as well as our world and the people and plants that live on it.

Through the performances of original music compositions at the culminating event, we learned that seventh graders from Swift Elementary School were curious about the effects of natural disasters on humankind, while students from Agassiz School were curious about the shared experience of being in seventh grade. Sawyer first graders were curious about the rediscovery of a beautiful little flower called the Kankakee River mallow, while the first graders at Clinton Elementary School discovered that despite our differences, we are all the same. As evidenced in these performances, the exploration of curiosity led both students and teachers to a new place. To a place of understanding. To the place called empathy.

Students discovered that having empathy for our planet and all who live here is really important. By having empathy, by putting oneself in the shoes of another – whether that’s a classmate, a person living in a different country, a musician performing on stage, or the Kankakee mallow – it helps to bring about balance for our world. And by living in balance, then we know what it means to live In Harmony!

As we listened to and watched all of the wonderful ways in which each school explored curiosity and empathy, we saw how teachers and students approached this project in their own unique way with their own unique set of resources, which was a beautiful thing!

Before the culminating event ended, fellows from the Civic Orchestra shared how their participation in the program gave them an opportunity to explore how performing as a community brings about balance. This was artistically demonstrated through the creation of a 3-D castle made with “bricks” that contained the unique attributes that each fellow brings to the ensemble. They ended by performing an arrangement of Bedřich Smetana’s The Moldau from Má vlast which illustrated the balance it takes to make beautiful music together.

By the end of the day, it was unmistakable from watching the amazing performances by every person in the room, that through this project, a curious journey had led each to a place of greater understanding about the world and all who call it home.


Teacher Reflections

This year has been surprisingly amazing. I have had such great experience with the CSO program, but with the focus being a bit different this year, I was nervous. It turned out to be such a wonderful experience for my students. Bringing in the science element to the program has really opened so many more lessons for my students.

Avo (CSO teaching artist) is amazing with the 1st graders. He is so easy to work with and is such a great teacher for my students. Giving my students hands-on experience on the instruments has been wonderful for them. We are very lucky to have this program at Sawyer School. Thank you!

Jennifer Worthy
Sawyer School

Since Pickard lost our one and only arts teacher, partnering with the CSO through this program has been really great for me and my students. I loved the focus on the sciences this year. It really connected perfectly with what the kids were learning. I will say that the program was a challenge at first, and a bit intimidating anticipating the performance in front of other schools, but I ended up really enjoying it. CSO-Connect is so organized and professional that it makes it a pleasure to invest the time and work.

Monica Ochoa
Pickard School

The Connect program has been once again a wonderful experience. Not only do I appreciate the fact that I get to collaborate with my colleagues on arts-integrated projects, but that we are provided with substantial time and resources to do it. The addition of the Civic Fellows working with the kids is great, and I really appreciated how Midori and Maria worked with this year’s students.

The Connect program has come up several times in conversations with administration and LSC members at our school – they are really seeing the value of the CSO’s support in the students’ education.

Nicholas Hall
Agassiz School

This year has been my favorite of all the years Swift has been a part of this program. I love the music. I love the interactive nature of the Civic Fellow’s involvement. I love how naturally the connections happened between the Field Museum and the music; however, what I loved most of all, was how Swift teachers, Katie, Hoyun and Darin, really were the ones steering this project. They were excited and ambitious and it truly felt like the music teachers (Sam and myself) were just part of the team. Watching the projects unfold so naturally and holistically was a needed joy! This program has been a pleasure!

Angela Maniaci
Swift School