UTC Professor, Chattanooga Library Offer Symphonic Tales For Preschoolers

Thursday, March 22, 2018 - by Sarah Joyner, UTC
Hardy Elementary students listen to Symphonic Tales
Hardy Elementary students listen to Symphonic Tales

In her intro to music class at UTC, one of the very first questions Dr. Nikolasa Tejero asks her students is, “How many of you guys have music experience?” 

No matter the class, most of the students think Dr. Tejero, associate professor of music theory and applied clarinet, is asking if they’ve played an instrument or sung in a choir. Even after clarifying that she really just wants to know who feels like they have experienced music by attending a concert or festival, very few raise their hands. 

Rather than being disgruntled, she decided she would do something. 

“The problem was that I didn’t think it was good that college students hadn’t had a significant music experience. But that wasn’t a problem that I could actually fix,” Dr. Tejero says. “I could remedy the symptom. I could put on a concert and force them to attend.” 

Instead, Dr. Tejero teamed-up with the Chattanooga Public Library and devised something that got to the root of the problem: introducing music to students while they’re still young. They call it “Symphonic Tales.” 

The Scene
A group of preschool students sit, legs crossed, on the floor of Hardy Elementary School’s science room. 

Different scenes are set up in front of them. Constructed from cardboard, they look like a patch of briars, a deep hole, a thorny rose, tree limbs with a cat peeking through. The piano starts to play, then the clarinet; it sounds like a mouse squeaking. 

After the short musical sequence ends, the kids are asked, “What did you hear? What was happening to the mouse?” 

Little hands shoot up in the air. 

“I think he fell in a hole.” 

“I think he fell in some flowers.” 

“He went home.” 

The Process
Symphonic Tales pairs music, stories and activities with a theme that speaks to three-, four- and five-year-olds. 

Once a month, Symphonic Tales visits local early childhood programs in underserved communities. One Saturday each month, the program is hosted at two different locations: the downtown public library along with another regional library; that location changes every month. 

“I’m a teacher. At the heart of it all, I’m an educator. I love music. I love sharing music,” Dr. Tejero says. 

February’s program, “Mousing Around,” was inspired by A.H. Benjamin’s storybook It Could Have Been Worse. The main character, Mouse, is on his way home from the city when he encounters a number of obstacles, making the trip more difficult than it should have been. As it turns out, however, falling into a patch of briars or down a dark hole saved him from a much worse fate such as getting eaten by a cat or snatched up by a bird. 

As the story is read aloud to the students, short snippets of music are played to represent the Mouse. On clarinet, Tejero is accompanied by Susan Hadden on the piano, as they play composer Daniel Dorff’s “Dance Music for Mr. Mouse.” 

“When you’re dealing with little kids, the world is their oyster; it’s full of possibilities,” Dr. Tejero explains. “Partly because they know so little and partly because they’re brains are so malleable at this time; they’re still forming. 

“Little kids believe in magic. It’s that willing to suspend disbelief, willing to engage in the impossible that makes them more logical for this kind of outreach, and we see it from month to month.” 

Every month features a new story, new music and new activities. At the Chattanooga Public Library, Librarian Olga Russell and Lee Hope, head of children’s services, choose a story and brainstorm connected activities while the music is chosen by Dr. Tejero, who always changes the music, picking different genres, composers and instruments (including voice). 

She often pulls performers from UTC’s Department of Performing Arts. As students, alumni and faculty, they almost always have a connection with the department. 

The performers aren’t always musicians. Steve Ray, chair of the department’s theatre division, has joined as narrator for a program. Trained as a ballerina, alumna Shanelle Newton lent her talents; theater students choreographed and danced a tango for a program themed around flamingos. 

Highlights
Both Dr. Tejero and Ms. Russel recall a memory that stands-out as a defining moment for why they dreamed up Symphonic Tales in the first place. 

At their Pete the Cat themed program, Dr. Tejero brought in two opera singers to perform the aria from Rossini’s “Humorous Duet for Two Cats.” The only word sung throughout the entire piece is “meow.” There’s no context, so the singers came up with their own script to capture their young audience’s attention. 

As they meowed away, each singer played with a toy until she noticed the other singer’s toy and decided it looked like more fun. Their antics continued with the song until each finally had the other’s toy and was satisfied. 

At the end, as the daycare students applauded, they heard one of the students say to herself, “This is so wonderful.” 

“It just welled out,” D.r Tejero says. 

“This program has proven to be so much more than we thought it would be,” Ms. Russel says. “It’s such a simple concept, but it has made art music accessible to so many kids that would never have had the chance to experience it.” 

Symphonic Tales, Dr. Tejero says, is more than just arts outreach or education. 

“This is humanitarian work. Some of these kids, they have never had the opportunity to tap into that part of their souls and not for anything that they’ve done wrong.” 

 

Nikolasa Tejero, clarinet, and Susan Hadden, piano, perform for Symphonic Tales at Hardy Elementary School
Nikolasa Tejero, clarinet, and Susan Hadden, piano, perform for Symphonic Tales at Hardy Elementary School

GPS To Host 2 Events Featuring Guest Speaker, Author, Physician And Alumna, Dr. Darria Long Gillespie

Over 50 Percent Of Tennessee Public High School Seniors Raise Score On ACT Senior Retake

U.S. News Ranks Lee’s Online Learning Program


Dr. Darria Long Gillespie is a Yale- and Harvard-trained emergency physician, a regular guest expert on CNN and The Dr. Oz Show and a national go-to doctor for simplifying health—particularly ... (click for more)

Interim Commissioner Dr. Lyle Ailshie announced today that 76.1 percent of the state’s public high school class of 2019—53,478 students—participated in the department’s third ACT Senior Retake ... (click for more)

Lee University saw its placement rise once again in the popular U.S. News & World Report “Best Online Bachelor's Programs” ranking. This year Lee’s ranking rose 18 spots to a tie for #42 ... (click for more)


Student Scene

GPS To Host 2 Events Featuring Guest Speaker, Author, Physician And Alumna, Dr. Darria Long Gillespie

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie is a Yale- and Harvard-trained emergency physician, a regular guest expert on CNN and The Dr. Oz Show and a national go-to doctor for simplifying health—particularly for women and parents. Now she’s sharing her expertise with a wider audience via her new book Mom Hacks: 100+ Science-Backed Shortcuts to Reclaim Your Body, Raise Awesome Kids, and Be Unstoppable, ... (click for more)

Over 50 Percent Of Tennessee Public High School Seniors Raise Score On ACT Senior Retake

Interim Commissioner Dr. Lyle Ailshie announced today that 76.1 percent of the state’s public high school class of 2019—53,478 students—participated in the department’s third ACT Senior Retake opportunity in October 2018, the state’s highest participation rate on record. Of those seniors who retook the ACT in 2018, more than 50 percent increased their composite score from their ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Federal Agents Make 126 Arrests, Seize Guns, Drugs During Operation Triple Beam

Federal officials said they made 126 arrests and seized seven guns and a large amount of illegal drugs during Operation Triple Beam in Hamilton County. David G. Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and J. Douglas Overbey, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said OTB was a systematic and sustained collaborative enforcement operation specifically ... (click for more)

Google Working With TVA To Put 1.6 Million Solar Panels In Tennessee And Alabama To Power New Data Centers

Google plans to work with TVA to deploy 1.6 million solar panels to power two new huge Google data centers in Tennessee and Alabama. Google officials said, "Hundreds of engineers, electricians and construction workers are building two new, energy-efficient Google data center campuses in the Southeastern U.S. - one in Tennessee and another in northern Alabama . And we’re not stopping ... (click for more)

Opinion

The Culture Of Policing In Chattanooga - And Response (3)

I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by Brenda Washington. Over the years, I have noticed that people tend to ignore or dismiss what she says, or attack her. This is unfortunate, because she is alerting people of the problems within the culture of policing in Chattanooga, whether it is in Hamilton County or the city of Chattanooga. There are good, honest police officers ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Best Olympics Story Ever

When I was in elementary school, there was an article in “Boys Life” magazine that introduced me to Jesse Owens, the great Olympic athlete who was far-and-away my favorite of all my childhood heroes. You’ll remember Hitler said Jesse was a member of the “United States Negro Auxiliary” at the 1936 Olympic Games because blacks were too inferior to be on the real U.S. team. You’ll ... (click for more)