by Bozena Kraj
Expert Educator Columnist, Poland
Project Based Learning, which is learning through experience, should be full of activities which let us our students gain knowledge in an exciting and practical way. Those challenging tasks could be one, two or three dimensional. And the truth is that as long as my students use music as the part of our projects, their work should be regarded as three dimensional. It means that these activities influence my students in an effective way, developing their talents, imagination and sensitivity, opening them to what “cannot be expressed into words and which cannot remain silent,” as Victor Hugo once wrote. No matter if it is a mixture of maths and music; history and music; English and music, singing, composing, playing the instruments, even as a background activity – all of them make sense, creating something special in our tasks: elusive and sophisticated atmosphere which develops imagination and raises our project expectations to higher levels of artistic expression.
Our experience with classical music began with a project connected with Frederic Chopin, who had been an eminent Polish composer, living and composing in the Romantic era. In 2010, we wanted to celebrate his bicentennial birth anniversary with tasks on his life and piano musical works. I had no hesitation in taking part in the event and its national celebrations as a coordinator of “Frederic Chopin lives in Daleszyce” project and its idea was the result of deeper reflection on my students’ talents and interests. What is more, this is when the need of classical music promotion appeared as a priority to enrich the school background of that national initiative. It was a great school year which proceeded the year 2011, called by the Ministry of Education “The year of School Talents.”
The project consisted of a few parts. The first one was connected with one of our student’s musical skills and knowledge. Chopin’s performances of his etudes, mazurkas, waltzes, preludes, polonaises and other pieces by our student Clara Kraj made our school celebrations shine. During the 2010 International Fryderyk Chopin Year, Clara played his works at numerous concerts organized in the Swietokrzyskie region, and was also at jubilee programmes on TV. The girl had already been a laureate of two special prizes at the XIII International M. Magin Piano Competition in Paris, France, and had been recognized at the XI International Chopin Piano Competition ‘Chopin for the Youngest.’
Technology played an important role to promote classical music composed by one of our greatest composers. We achieved all the necessary agreements from concert organizers to record or publish our student’s performances on the school website during the project. Our video materials were converted into MP3 audio files, which can be used by us to make official PowerPoint presentations for different occasions. It was a great outcome to see how many students, encouraged by Clara, watched the Movie Maker video recordings, commented and got interested in Chopin, which became a great introduction to another part of the project: an online knowledge competition, which consisted of listening tasks and a theory quiz. The contestants were instructed how to use the Internet and find recommended materials online. There was also the Art Contest too, inspired by Chopin’s music and its result was really surprisingly large: beautiful pictures were drawn and painted, proving that music can be seen with the eyes of imagination. As a result of the friendly contests’ atmosphere, by learning, listening, reading, painting, drawing and watching, our students gained a vast knowledge and developed sensitivity to music, useful for everybody. The winner of the Art contest, Clara, the pianist, painted the spring-green meadows of Chopin’s Żelazowa Wola, the composer’s birth place, where music notes were dancing in the rhythm of his music, reflecting his admiration and love to the national landscape of his motherland. The rewarded picture became a gift for Professor Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, a famous Chopin pianist, who invited Clara to take part in the International Fryderyk Chopin Festival in Busko- Zdroj, she had been organizing for many years. All the pictures were collected and promoted as a Movie Maker presentation online and were also exposed as an exhibition during our visit to a Comenius project partner in Turkey.
The final event summing up the Chopin Year was the May concert, dedicated to our students’ mothers and led by Arthur Jaron, an outstanding pianist, and the Director of the L. Różycki State Music School in Kielce. There were some other guests invited too: Maciej, a violinist, Janek, a young pianist, Alexander – an accordionist and Clara, a pianist. The classical music, connected with the final project report and the Art exhibition was the strong accent of that “Chopin lives in Daleszyce” project.
Yes, we can fly high with music and we cannot live without it; as Confucius wrote: “[music] produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” So, what is life and school life without it? It lacks the third dimension – artistic one or musical one, whatever we call it. Even classical music can be popular in its good word sense; its value added to Project Based Learning makes it more complete and satisfactory. As a teacher I learnt a lot thanks to the project about Chopin, which was recognized as good school practice by the local Board in Education in Kielce.