This year our Lower School assemblies have offered many experiences in the arts. A Juilliard string quartet came in October, followed by a keyboard and grand piano performance by Juilliard students in November. In January, the famed music conservatory brought jazz to the Lower School and in February introduced the girls to historical instruments, including a harpsichord. Earlier this spring, a guitar ensemble came to visit, and we also enjoyed a concert with woodwind instruments.
These concerts have provided our students exposure to instrumental music of all sorts, and after their performances, the Juilliard musicians were eager to receive questions. The girls loved learning how old the performers' instruments are and why they chose them; our students were also eager to understand when the musicians began playing and what made them decide to stick with it.
Ian Spencer Bell, artist-in-residence, has taught dance on a weekly basis to Kindergarten and Class I this year. Of his experiences with his students, he writes: “I hope to create life-long dancers, lovers of dance, and audience members through discussion, viewing, technique, and creative practice. In Kindergarten, we discuss how to identify classical ballet and classical ballet dancers through costume, shapes, movement qualities, use of space, and spatial design. Young dancers embody five elements of classical ballet—plié (bend), tendu (stretch), relevé (rise), tourner (turn), sauté (jump)—and develop strength, coordination, and locomotor skills through ballet walks, runs, gallops, skips, and polka. In groups, with partners, and independently, our dancers are mindful of music and its relationship to dance. The students practice moving in various rhythms and in supervised improvisations. Through pantomime, readings, and film, students discovered the stories of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. May 11, 2011, marked the 117th birthday of Martha Graham, and our dancers have begun comparing Graham's work with our own class work. The Kindergarten presented three short dances based on classroom exercises in a recent performance… dancing to music from Edvard Helsted's 1858 score Flower Festival at Genzano, composed for Danish ballet master and choreographer, August Bournonville.
Earlier in the school year, Pema Rinzin, who has been an artist-in-residence at the Rubin Museum of Art, visited the schoolhouse. The girls watched with rapt attention as this Tibetan artist created a large, charcoal scroll drawing of a dragon and a wave. When he had finished, one child asked how he had felt as he was drawing. His response was intriguing—he said he felt both peaceful and happy. The children were all able to connect to this experience.
Throughout the year, the Visual Education program has provided countless field trips to many museums related to specific classroom curricula. Among the museums that Lower School students have visited are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Queens Museum of Art, the Cloisters, the New York Historical Society, the Jewish Museum, the Transit Museum, St. John the Divine, the Rubin Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Tenement Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History.
We are indeed fortunate to be able to celebrate the arts in the Lower School at Nightingale, as the students have frequent exposure to them, including both the performing and visual arts. It will be interesting to see how the girls reflect on these experiences in the future and incorporate them in the mind's eye.