Singing is an integral part of education at the Minnesota Waldorf School. Although formal choral classes do not start until the fourth grade, singing inspires and informs other class work from kindergarten forward. It gives a framework to social interaction and enlivens the festival cycle.
The activity of singing enhances children’s physical, intellectual and spiritual development. When singing, a child’s breathing deepens, heart rate increases, and muscles of the head, neck and abdomen are engaged. The practice of singing aids concentration and memory and increases visual and listening skills. The art of singing separates humanity from the animal kingdom and links us with the spiritual world.
In the kindergartens, singing is nurtured as joyful, natural expression. The teacher’s gentle song calls children from one activity to the next, and the children spontaneously join in. Singing accompanies circle games, puppet show and stories. Seasonal songs reflect the changing year.
In the lower grades, children continue to sing with games, stories and during transitions. Now singing also reinforces learning in the morning lesson and subject classes. Songs appropriate to each illuminate mathematics, language arts, foreign language and later history and geography. Only gradually is music perceived in a conceptual way. Rudimentary notation and awareness of pitch and rhythm are introduced in third grade.
Choir class begins in fourth grade. Now children begin to experience the art of singing and the social process of making music together in a more conscious way. At first songs are learned in unison and by rote as children also learn to follow direction. Next, children read songs from printed text. Then they write the musical score of a familiar song. By year’s end children read from two-part musical scores. Complexity of music progresses in a similar manner. Unison singing leads to songs in call and response style, songs with ostinati (simple repeated harmonies), quodlibets or partner songs, rounds and simple two-part harmonies.
Proper singing technique, including breathing, posture and intonation, are taught by game-like activities. The choral repertoire follows the seasons and the fourth grade curriculum. It includes folk songs, classical melodies and compositions by the teacher and students. The choir sings at several school festivals and at a spring concert.
In fifth and sixth grades, children sing in a combined choir for the first time. Singing is still encouraged as joyful self-expression but with increased consciousness of the musicianship skills that build ensemble sound. These skills —singing in tune, singing in harmony and blending voices together in unified tone—are acquired by careful listening to fellow choir members. Songs are sung in two and three parts. The solfege (do-re-mi) system helps reinforce awareness of intervals. Major and minor scales are learned. The choral repertoire is taken from American folk, classical and world music traditions. Gregorian chant is introduced. The choir sings at many festivals, at the spring concert and usually makes at least one visit to a nursing home.