Making Animal Music Together

By Alice Roche Cody

Things were rocking in Elizabeth Carney's third grade music classes. As Serene Riaz's composition played, her classmates listened intently, bopping heads, tapping feet, and drumming fingers on desks. Serene's musical score depicted eerie howling sounds of a burrowing owl – a native to the grassland biome – and she mixed in piano chords, flute flurries, and synchronized beats to create a haunting piece that resembled an uplifting gospel hymn.  

When Mrs. Carney asked her students to describe what they heard, the enthusiasm flowed:

"I like how she added the piano sounds and all the high notes," said Emily Wong '30.

"The music went well with all the sounds, and it described the owl to me," said Katie Judd '30.

"I liked the ending, how it faded out," said Gabe Rios '30. "It felt like I was in church."

Serene's creation was one of many final projects presented for Mrs. Carney's classes for the Lower School's Biome Project, where students study an animal from a specific region. Pupils composed music based on their biome creature using SoundTrap, a music sequencing software piloted in Mrs. Carney's classes.

"SoundTrap makes it easy to tell a story," said Mrs. Carney, who added that the new technology proved especially welcome during current COVID-19 protocols because it allowed for internet-based, socially distant collaboration among her students.

Assistance from Academic Technology Coordinator Brendan Flanagan helped bring the new technology to students, and he also assisted with instruction and fielding questions. "The success of our project was due to the strong partnership with our technology department," said Mrs. Carney. "Mr. Flanagan and I worked together to ensure our students felt supported and confident in their work."

The Biome Project, spearheaded by LS Science Teacher Lynn Prosen, culminates with a school-wide zoo experience, where the GSB community can visit each biome and explore all the animal research projects.

Back in the third grade, Katie presented the cheetah, complete with bongos, buzzing bees, synchronized beats, crickets, clarinets, and chanting. "I like how the cheetah is the singer of the song," said one classmate. And Mrs. Carney chimed in, "In my mind I can picture the cheetah with the microphone." The hyena proved another fun piece, presented by Jon Hanson '30, who told his classmates to listen for footsteps in the grass and the hyena laughing. Indeed, the burst of sounds at the beginning sounded like an explosion, and by the end, the piano and footstep sounds faded slowly away.

Across the hall, Charlotte Brandt '30 presented her biome creature, the meerkat, and asked her classmates to listen for digging in the sand and the blowing wind, which represented the grassland environment. Her animal sounded like a seal, and interspersed Charlotte included guitar strums and Latin beats. As they listened, her classmates moved their shoulders and one student pretended to scratch records like a deejay.

"It sounds like the meerkat was saying Nah!" said Lyla Goodrich '30.

"The Latin beat sounds like coconuts smashing together," Charlotte critiqued.

"I like the way you introduced a sound, and then faded out another one," said Mrs. Carney. "It ended with footsteps in the wind, which was really cool."

With Colin Auerbach's dwarf mongoose, drums, chirping, and elephant screeches filled the room. Mrs. Carney got into the groove by playing air bongos, while her students all drummed on their desks, until the song closed with a strong beat. The students' smiles summed up their appreciation, and Charlotte spoke for all: "I loved everything!"

Mrs. Carney's enjoyment in her students' work was evident in her parting words: "It has been a fun month and a half!"

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