Fifth Grade Music Program Incorporates Ukulele, Brass Instruments, and Wind Instruments for 2021-2022 School Year

By Chapman Word

To say that the past two years have been full of change would be an understatement. This is clearly evident if one looks at the differences between the fifth-grade music class of last year and that of this year. The fifth-grade music system has been completely overhauled. It has gone from a basic introduction to playing the keyboard to a two-pronged initiative that allows students to choose what instrument they want to play. The students now have two options: an introduction to the Upper School band class or a basic course on either the piano or ukulele. Lower School Music Teacher Ms. Cogliano and Upper School Band Director Mr. Ward share the reason for such a drastic change.

In order to gain context for the overhaul, it’s important to compare the previous lower school music system to the current one. Ms. Cogliano is in her second year of teaching music at CCS, and she says the difference between the two years is truly incomprehensible. Due to COVID-19 protocols, she spent the 2020-2021 school year going around from class to class with a cart and wasn’t allowed to sing. Now, there is a specific classroom for elementary music, as there was previously, and a wide variety of new instruments.

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The addition of 5th Grade Band with Upper School Instrumental Music Teacher Kirk Ward has allowed 18 elementary students the option learn the trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, flute, or trombone as a part of their weekly music course.

Before this year, ukulele was taught in sixth grade, not fifth. Sixth-graders spent four weeks learning the ukulele as part of the grade’s broader semester of fine arts rotation. As for the general description of the change, Mr. Ward remarked, “Ukuleles are fun but they are not a good segue into wind, brass, or percussion. That [sixth grade] class has shifted to include world language in place of instrumental music, which is a good opportunity for students to get a sample of the language opportunities at CCS. Ms. Cogliano's classes will be able to take what they are learning and carry that into percussion or guitar while the students who work with me will be able to develop into competent band students earlier.” 

The overall reasoning behind the change is a focus on a long-term education rather than just a general restructuring. The Upper School band program faces many challenges with the growth and retention of its members, which this new system hopes to combat. When asked about the plan, Mr. Ward explained, “The reality of instrumental music is that you can't recruit new students out of the high school in the same way that a choir class might work. Instead, you have to grow instrumental musicians from an early age. It takes several years of hard work on an instrument to become proficient. Starting in fifth grade is going to set the stage for a more vibrant Upper School program in three to five years.” Giving students a pathway into the band program not only expands their opportunities but also helps the program recuperate from personnel losses such as graduation and student transfers. 

In addition to preparing CCS for more participation in its Upper School band program within the next few years, the changes in the structure of the fifth grade music course is also aimed at increasing appreciation for music. When asked why the ukulele and piano were

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"Instrumental instruction is so important for not only learning an instrument and learning music theory, but for many other facets of life," says Ms. Cogliano, who teaches the fifth grade piano and ukulele courses. "These include building self-esteem, learning how to focus and concentrate, goal setting, problem-solving, exposure to other cultures via music, coordination, hard work, self-expression, and so much more.”

chosen for the non-band program, Ms. Cogliano described the benefits by saying, “Piano is a great building block instrument. It teaches basic music theory that can be applied to any other facet of music, whether that be band, choir, or just general music appreciation. Ukulele was chosen because it’s child-sized, less expensive than other string instruments, and easy to learn. Instrumental instruction is so important for not only learning an instrument and learning music theory, but for many other facets of life. These include building self-esteem, learning how to focus and concentrate, goal setting, problem-solving, exposure to other cultures via music, coordination, hard work, self-expression, and so much more.” 

Mr. Ward shares this sentiment. “Sometimes middle school students have become too self-conscious about looking and sounding good to be willing to take those kinds of risks,” he says. “A 7th grader who has been playing for two years already is able to play some impressive music and that gives them the confidence boost they need.” 

The benefits of having kids learn about the foundations of music are near-infinite. Both Mr. Ward and Ms. Cogliano argue that the mere ability to even understand and converse about the topic is reason enough to revamp fifth-grade music.

In conclusion there are high hopes for the entirety of the CCS music program as the possibilities are expanded through this new generation of fifth grade musicians. Ms. Cogliano and Mr. Ward are both very excited to see how this initial year plays out and the impact it has on students down the road. It is hoped that both levels of students will perform for both a Christmas concert as well as a Spring concert this year, however, dates for these have not yet been decided.