Hamden Hall Country Day School

Educating students in PreSchool through Grade 12

Musical Expression Through A New Language Is A 'Sign' Of the Times

With their singing somewhat limited due to COVID restrictions, some of our Lower School students are learning sign language to musically express themselves.

“I kind of see it as a metaphor for overcoming our limitations,” said Lower School music teacher Rachael Jungkeit. “There are people all over the world who are born with or develop deafness, but they learn how to speak, how to communicate.  Every human is innately musical, no matter their differing abilities. This year, the pandemic has limited the abilities of all of us. Especially musicians. But we can find a way to overcome those limitations while we wait for a return to a more ‘normal’ life.”

Students in Erin Correa and Caitlin Murphy’s second-grade classes learned to sign to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. Kindergartners are also learning to sign to Raffi's song, Thanks a Lot, in honor of Thanksgiving. 

“Sign language is a wonderful way to learn to sing, especially since it is the only way that some people in this world are able to sing,” noted Mrs. Jungkeit.

The benefits of signing a song are many, according to Mrs. Jungkeit, including “feeling” the song’s phrasing and making a piece “artful.”

“It's also an opportunity to learn a new language and to maybe develop empathy for people who experience this limitation all the time,” she said.

With students masked and unable to project their voices safely while indoors, musical communication is still possible and signing is just one of the ways to ensure that students receive a music-rich experience under the pines.

In the Lower School, movement and rhythm are important elements and are incorporated in their music classes. At the start of the year, students were provided music kits that contain some type of movement prop – ranging from ribbon sticks to scarves to "sparkle sticks." 

“We do plenty of beat-ful movements to recorded music, but every student also has some kind of beat-keeping item in their kits. For most of them, it's a pair of rhythm sticks,” explained Mrs. Jungkeit.

Grade 3 and 4 students use their sticks to play on bucket drums. In fact, bucket drums are being used to continue the world music drumming ensembles in those classes. Second-graders have hand drums, mallets, and maracas in their kits. Besides rhythm sticks, Kindergartners and first-graders have jingle bells.
“We can learn how to adapt our dancing so that we’re doing so within our own personal spaces and still take joy in the fact that we are surrounded by a bunch of friends who are all doing it along with us – at a distance, of course,” maintained Mrs. Jungkeit.

Back to singing, students are still producing melodious tones but they’re doing so in their own homes. Students listen to a recording in class (oftentimes it’s Mrs. Jungkeit doing the singing!) and then hum the melody. Then, at home, each student is asked to do their weekly “Sing for Me” homework assignment. They record themselves singing the song and post it on padlet for their teacher to review.

“That way, I know singing and tonal development are part of their lives, and I can keep tabs on their progress,” she said. “We're still having fun and making music!” 

Click here to view Mrs. Correa's second-grade students performing What A Wonderful Worldvia sign language.

Hamden Hall Country Day School

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Hamden Hall Country Day School is a nurturing and inclusive community with a dynamic learning environment that promotes academic excellence by understanding each child and fostering their individual growth.