Friday, 31 March 2017

Loudoun County Guitar Program

Walking in to Dr Kevin Virgil's classroom at Heritage High School, Leesburg, gives an immediate impression of whole-class teaching; guitars hang on the walls, numbered and ready for action; the class is set in ensemble format, with music stands, chairs and footstools in position; everything is waiting so when the "Artist Class" arrive at 10:35 they are ready to play almost instantly.

What strikes me immediately is the camaraderie these students have with one another; they can be of different year groups within the same ensemble, as ability is the determining factor rather than age, but they are so used to being together and creating music with one another, that it really does appear to give them a special connection.

The American whole-class teaching model, whereby students learn instruments together from the beginning is firmly established; choir, band and orchestra are permanent fixtures as arts subjects and students can opt to take either one of those streams to satisfy their arts credits requirements in the curriculum. What is perhaps less common in the USA as a whole, are guitar programs which offer the same education through the medium of guitar ensemble.

Loudoun County Public Schools, where Heritage High is situated, were among the pioneers of this type of program and I was able to fully immerse myself in 4 days of observations in classes taught by guitarist and non-guitarist teachers, and have in-depth conversations with how the program has developed and been structured.

Guitar classes meet 2 or 3 times a week, depending on the timetable rotation and these classes are usually 90 minutes each time. I can't help but wonder what could be achieved back home in the UK if general music lessons were put in the context of whole-class instrumental teaching; to put the elements of the key stage requirements into this setting would give a practical relevance to everything students need to cover. It's certainly food for thought ...