Music at HES
Popular music program returns to Hughson Elementary

There is an old African saying about the human need for musical expression that Katye Maki likes to share: “If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.”

That simple thought perfectly captures Maki’s approach to teaching music, especially to the transitional kindergarteners through third-graders at Hughson Elementary School.

“Music is innate to everyone,” she explained.

After a one-year hiatus because of staffing, music classes returned this year to the HES. Maki splits her time between nearby Hughson High School and the elementary school. She works with teens in the high school band program in the morning, then switches to the younger students four days a week in the afternoon.

“Actually, it’s a lot of fun,” she said of the dual role. “There is lots of technical knowledge to teach instruments. Band rehearsal is quite a bit different than teaching at the elementary school. I’m more expressive with the younger students. I can use my (singing) voice more. We dance and we sing. It’s kind of a fun way to end my day. It’s joyful.”

The 26 classes at HES are divided into two groups of 13. Every other month, each group meets with Maki once a week for about 25 minutes.

On a recent Tuesday, 21 first-graders eagerly filed into the HES media center for their music lesson. As they lined up in the back of the room, Maki sang each of their first names one by one as she directed them to their chairs. As each child skipped to his or her seat, the rest of the class echoed Maki by singing that child’s name.

Once all were seated, Maki began to teach them a simple four-line song called “At the Bottom of the Sea.” She pronounced the words a line at a time in her speaking voice, then had the children repeat them. The next time, she sang them, with the children doing the same. The song contains only a few notes, which the students quickly picked up on. Soon, Maki asked the children to sit on the floor – as if they were a school of fish in the ocean. Then, singing the song they just learned, she had them form a dance line in which one child was added each time the song was repeated.

“The idea is to teach them a song, practice the musical concepts and then we play,” Maki explained. “They don’t realize they’re practicing. To them, it’s just one.”

Maki adds complexity for the older students, but the goal is the same for all the elementary students.

“This is a great way to lay a foundation for musical literacy,” she said. “Later, when they’re ready to connect what they’re singing to what they’re seeing, they’ll be ready to make that connection.”

Most of the musical focus at the elementary level is on singing and dancing, but occasionally Maki will have the children use simple instruments like rhythm sticks, triangles, tambourines, hand drums or maracas. Other than that, instrumental training doesn’t begin until the fifth grade at Fox Road Elementary.

District officials are excited about the resumption a formal music program at HES, where many teachers for years have integrated singing into their lessons without any specific music structure.

“Research shows it is an important part of brain development, helps their mind and body work together, actually improves literacy and just as important, it brings students joy,” said Assistant Superintendent Carrie Duckart.

Though many youngsters have access to music through their parents, older siblings and various kinds of entertainment away from school, Maki thinks exposing them to basic concepts at an early age can add richness to their education.

“Our goal is to foster their musical development,” she said. “We learn about rhythm and beats, and teach them the difference between their singing and speaking voice.”

Maki’s passion for music is obvious to her students. It is reflected in the smiles on their faces and the volume of their voices as they sing.

“One of the things that makes Mrs. Maki special is she is quick to form relationships,” said HES Principal Megan Reisz said. “Her enthusiasm is contagious with the kids. When the kids are coming to her class, they get very excited. They can’t wait to go to music. They share that with their families, who are thrilled.”

The music classes also complement what is happening in the students’ regular classes.

“It’s an opportunity to take a break from academics,” Reisz said. “It’s an opportunity to use movement. There’s a rhythm and cadence to music that helps with mathematical skills as well. It ties into a lot of things.”