Outside the Box Residency, Caldwell Middle School, Houma, Louisiana
About an hour south of New Orleans, just between Houma and Thibodeaux, is Levytown, Louisiana. It’s bayou country, so it’s flat, sparse, and probably really hot in the summer. I found myself there in December, however, so I can’t be sure.
Caldwell Middle School serves the students of Levytown. Thanks to a grant from the Houma Arts Council, I was able to visit Caldwell Middle School and work with three classes of fourth graders over one week. I arrived on a Thursday night, performed for a large group of students in multiple grades the next morning, met the awesome fourth grade team with whom I would be working and then got to work buying PVC pipes. Lots of it. 300 feet to be exact.
I can’t thank enough the truly wonderful people of Lowe’s in both Houma and Thibodeaux. Armed with a letter from Caldwell’s principal and an unflagging sense of purpose, I asked for an unprecedented price on 10 foot length of 3″ diameter PVC along with the caps needed to make Beat Tubes for the coming residency. What are Beat Tubes you ask? Well they are, of course, the to-die-for beatboxing accessory of the season darling! More on these instruments later. Suffice it to day the people at Lowe’s gave me a monstrous reduction in cost which allowed me, in the end, to make 75 Beat Tubes for Caldwell’s permanent collection.
Music takes place over time, which, interestingly, differentiates it from a painting. Although I would be the first to say that music and painting have more in common than not. But not more than music and cooking have in common, but that is another topic all together! So if one considers the time-based nature of music, it becomes evident that musicians must divide this time into some sort of unit in order to effectively communicate the message of the music. It is here that we find a very powerful connection with the concept of fractions. We decided that for the fourth graders participating in this residency, integrating music and fractions would be an important step towards playing the beat tubes. It turned out that for many of the students, it was an opportunity to look at fractions in a new, meaningful way.
The objectives of the music-fraction activity were to allow students to “perform” fractions and gain new insight into terms like numerator and denominator as well as add fractions of both same and different denominators. We populated rhythm charts with Bass Drums (B), Hi-Hats (T) and Snare Drums (K), and then analyzed these rhythms with the aid of “fractions blocks.” These cool little manipulatives are cut to scale so that a student can kinesthetically compare 1/6 and 1/8, for example. The activity culminated in lots of beatboxing and genuine working with fractions.
Breaking music-time into units proved to be the perfect primer for playing multi-part Beat Tube rhythms as an ensemble. While the beat tube activity further reinforced the students exploration of fractions, they also provided a great real-world tool to investigate the concepts of pitch and amplitude. The students had a blast playing the tubes and discussing why longer tubes produce a lower pitch.
I was sad to leave Caldwell, but the students left a bright spot in my heart that continues to glow without fading. I hope to visit them again soon.