Any students who thought they could graze through Music Appreciation class just by showing up and listening has never had an instructor like Monica Ambalal. The first major project she assigned the class was to form groups and create an instrument from material found at home. Though students were a bit wary at first, they all ended up completing the project and proudly presenting their instruments to the class—an Indian flute made from PVC pipe, a drum made from a trash can and duct tape, maracas made from soda bottles, and many more that showed their resourcefulness and creativity.
“I think it’s super important to have alternate teaching methods in the classroom,” says Monica, who holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology and began a recent lesson on Bach by playing a beautiful prelude on the piano. “By doing this project, they were able to see that they have music right in their own homes and they don’t even realize it. They are exposed to building materials in their kitchens, their garages, and their back yards. They learned that every time they made a hole in an instrument they were experiencing the timbre of that instrument which connected a connect a creativity aspect to the project.’’
The students also learned other life lessons beyond music. They used participatory skills by selecting a project coordinator, a historian, and a biographer; critical thinking skills by coming up with a plan; writing skills by completing an assessment; and public speaking skills by presenting to the group. “When I started this class, I knew zero about music,” said Nayan Pandey, whose flute-making partner Stephanie Hernandez added, “We love this class!”