As at many elementary schools, the students at Hollywood School in Brookfield have spent part of their weeks this fall in music classes led by a teacher with a passion for song.
However, what set lessons at Hollywood this fall apart from most other schools is that an award-winning songwriter was the one leading the music lessons as part of a special artist-in-residence program.
This October, Chicago-based singer/songwriter Amy Lowe was welcomed to Hollywood as a guest educator, where she spent several days teaching students from first through fifth grades everything from the fundamentals of music to turning them into performers of original content.
Lowe had the opportunity to guide students through the songwriting process to allow each class to compose their own unique songs about topics they’re studying in school. Students then shared their songs with teachers and parents on Nov. 4 in a special assembly in Hollywood’s gym.
Lowe’s resume includes support from the Illinois Arts Council and Ravinia, a 1995 Billboard Songwriters Award, four Parents Choice Awards and two Educational Press Distinguished Achievement Awards. Professionally, she offers music tutoring programs, live performances and history programs.
Originally, Lowe began writing songs and playing instruments as a young child.
“I’ve always been able to see and hear things with music,” she said. “I can look around a room and see the patterns and turn it into a song. Songwriting is a natural extension, and through songwriting, many doors have opened.”
In the school setting, Lowe does everything from teaching students songs about math and history to assisting those struggling with English to use lyrics and rhythm to grasp the language.
At Hollywood, Lowe first met with teachers to learn about their individual curriculums.
In first grade, students focused their songs around working with the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Since second-graders were learning the importance of community, Lowe asked them to create a song describing a walk through the neighborhood and incorporating all of their senses.
With third-graders comparing urban and rural settings, Lowe helped the students write one song focusing on each style of living. In fourth grade, Lowe helped students create their own mythology stories and turn them into song, and in fifth grade, she let the students choose the topic and then helped create a song based on things connected to autumn.
“Music is a great way to reinforce what students are learning,” Lowe said. “When you take those concepts and turn them into song, it’s easier for students to grasp the fundamental concepts. If students are enjoying what they’re doing and making their own connections, they learn better.”
Lowe’s artist-in-residence program was made possible by the Hollywood PTA in an effort to creatively engage students through innovative teaching methods.
PTA parent Jennifer Leimberer said the PTA’s cultural arts committee set goals for unique experiences like Lowe’s program for students throughout the year.
“To meet that goal, we organize cultural arts field trip for each class and bring cultural arts experiences to the Hollywood students via assemblies and artists-in-residence experiences,” Leimberer said.
When Hollywood Principal Kim Hefner heard about the PTA working to bring Lowe to the school, she was excited the committee sought out a unique talent for students.
“[The PTA] brought to my attention the artists they’ve sponsored recently, and we realized that we’ve not had musicians,” Hefner said. “We’ve had poets, visual artists [and] storytellers. At the same time, I’m big on words. So, we combined the music and the words and found Amy who is a singer/songwriter who works with children.”
Leimberer said students benefit from the PTA and school working to include music education in the curriculum.
“Artists like Amy Lowe are experts in engaging in this creative process and at helping teachers and students engage in this process in productive and purposeful ways,” she said. “Writing a song that will be shared with the community provides an authentic audience and purpose for engaging in this writing process.”
Hefner agrees music education should remain a priority at schools.
“It allows children to develop a very important skill,” she said. “There is evidence that music education facilitates learning in all areas. Also, we have children who are passionate about music at Hollywood, and this validates them and provides an avenue for their musical growth.”
Lowe said she hopes both students and teachers came away with a better appreciation for how music can effectively bridge gaps in learning.
“Concepts do not change, but there’s a lot of ways you can introduce those concepts,” she said. “I believe music is a way of creating community. It connects to people on an emotional level and lyrics are a way of reinforcing those emotions so that it becomes something that’s tangible and your experience. When you participate in the creating of the music, then it becomes yours.”