We set up the room like a drumming circle, with twelve students on djembes and twelve playing their fiddles (4 violin, 4 viola, 4 cello- our bassist was absent). The drumming teacher began by reviewing a three-part pattern they had learned for the last concert. As each new rhythm entered, I played it on my viola with two or three notes. As the students started to get it in their ears, they picked up their fiddles and started to try them. We stuck with each new rhythm until the students were really locked in, then we introduced a new one, and one by one they began to switch. The process was very organic, with little talking. One of the patterns was confusing at first, so we stopped to sing it on letter names, solfège, and finger numbers, then picked it up again.
We played almost every minute of the 45 minute class, and at the end students left the room singing the patterns and asking if we could do it again in orchestra this week. The next step is to write the rhythms down and name them, and to add singing and playing of a familiar tune over the top. We are thinking of creating an arrangement of the folk song Kookaburra modeled after the Orff concept of layered ostinati.
Have you done anything similar with an orchestra, either as conductor or as performer? If not, what would you do with 24 first and second graders, 24 drums, and 24 fiddles?
Here is the final product, filmed in June: