Working With Gifted and Talented Arts Students — 3 Realizations

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My husband and I just finished teaching a class at a summer program for Gifted and Talented students in the arts. Our class was titled, “Hip Pop Chorus,” focusing on pop a cappella repertoire, or as I explain to non-music-folk, “Like Pitch Perfect.”

Without knowing how many voices or what kinds of voice we would have, I arranged two songs for them thinking they would spend a fair amount of time learning notes and possibly re-revoicing sections. We also pulled some arrangements we found on MuseScore, allowing students to suggest songs they like during class time. In total, we had about 6 pieces for them during the first week. By the second week, they had learned all of their notes and had everything mostly memorized. Highly impressed, yet slightly panicked, we thought, “These kids are awesome, but what in the world are we going to do with them for another week and a half? We can’t polish for that long, and we certainly can’t play musical chairs any more.” (It’s true…we did resort to playing musical chairs once).

As a result of our brainstorming, we came up with the idea to have them arrange their own song, with only brief guidance from us. They chose the song, identified the key, found harmonies, invented accompaniment parts, and gave everyone a solo. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. What a treat to work with students who get excited about musical challenges!

After our performance, I sat and reflected on the program. I had not had any experience working in a gifted and talented environment, and I honestly didn’t think it would be any different than a regular rehearsal with my choirs. Here’s what I came away with:

1. They learn exceptionally fast. After lunch, we would review our morning material and then completely finish the piece, leaving us scrambling to figure out what to do for 3 more hours! We ended up continually putting arrangements in their hands and decided on a slightly longer program than intended. We were able to do 20 minutes of a cappella music…it was awesome!

2. They are creative and have excellent problem-solving skills. As I mentioned above, we gave them the opportunity to arrange their own piece. We watched them work together and collaborate on ideas, which was amazing in itself. While there were some students who took leadership in delegating tasks and asking questions, the majority of the students were on board and fully engaged in the process.

3. Their creativity and work ethic was inspiring. I saw a lot of student work during the program and I couldn’t believe the material they were producing. A songwriting class wrote a tribute to the Emanuel 9. A playwriting class wrote a play documenting American History in 20-minutes. The art galleries were filled with sophisticated sculptures and paintings (which always brings the disappointment in my poor penmanship and inability to draw to surface…). I was reminded why I love seeing creative work; you see something new every time.

It was such an enjoyable and inspiring experience, and I am hoping we get to teach at the program next summer! I highly recommend participating in a gifted and talented program during your teaching career, as it ignites a creative fire and reminds you why you do what you do. And of course, it puts you in a room with young people that love what you love.

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