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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 4, 2008

Photo: Mary Cohen, a University of Iowa assistant professor of music education, works with members of the community during a previous community performance. Photos by Doug Allaire.

UI students work with Willowwind on service-learning project, Nov. 19 concert

When Mary Cohen learned that Willowwind School in Iowa City was without a choir, she knew that she and her four choral methods students could help fill the musical void.

Cohen, a University of Iowa assistant professor of music education who holds a joint appointment with the School of Music in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education, created a new service-learning component in an undergraduate choral methods class she is teaching this fall.

After several months of working with the Willowwind students, Cohen will cap the service-learning project with a community choir performance at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Willowwind School, 950 Dover St. in Iowa City. The performance is free and open to the public.

"I think students learn the best through hands-on experiences," Cohen said, adding this creates the perfect win-win situation. "I decided it would be really meaningful if we could get these UI students out conducting a group, and both college and elementary students could benefit."

At the concert, the eight Willowwind students, who range in age from third to eighth grade, will perform, followed by an intergenerational choir performance with both the elementary students and The Voices of Experience, a 40-member senior citizen choir that Cohen also conducts as part of her research, service and outreach. Finally, The Voices of Experience will perform for the audience.

UI graduate teaching assistant Matthew Erpelding, a musical arts doctoral student in choral conducting, also assists Cohen with the service-learning class.

Beginning in late August, the four UI students have traveled to Willowwind School every Friday afternoon. Willowwind is an independent private school in Iowa City that provides learning opportunities for students ranging in age from pre-school through 14 years.

"Our UI students are teaching a wonderful group of eight children who are bright, energetic and excited to be there," Cohen said. "And so it's a safe environment for these UI students who want to be choir students."

The four UI undergraduate students meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 to 10:20 a.m. for classroom instruction time, and they travel to Willowwind School Fridays from 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. to work with the students. Three students are majoring in music education, and one -- an Italian major with a music minor -- is interested in working as a music minister.

"The skill of being a choral music educator is complex," Cohen said, adding the UI students get to do everything from honing their own musical skills to arranging rounds, learning to work with people in an ensemble, conducting a choir, and learning teaching techniques and classroom management in a peer-review atmosphere. "We rehearse with them, and each of the four students is teaching them a round by rote or ear and a song printed on an octavo (sheet music)."

While the UI students have been working on the songs with the Willowwind students, they have been figuring out other performance details such as the concert theme, program order and concert dress. They've also been designing a paper program, helping the students design a poster, and teaching the students performance etiquette.

Cohen said another important dimension to the project is that each of the Willowwind students in the choir is matched with a senior pen pal in The Voices of Experience choir, creating an intergenerational learning and friendship opportunity.

"I've matched them all up, and it's started with the senior choir member writing a letter to their partner," Cohen said. "Then the kids write back to their pen pals, and so we hope there will be a lot of interaction before the Nov. 19 concert between the Willowwind child and their senior match."

Cohen said there is also tremendous value in having the Willowwind students build relationships with members of the senior choir and to see others enjoying a life-long love of singing.

"These children get to see adults up to 92 years old, singing and making music their entire lives. This allows them to see the value and joy that singing can bring to them throughout their entire lives. An activity they're doing in school as a young child has life-long importance," said Cohen, who teaches choral methods, elementary methods and graduate music education courses at the UI.

One of Cohen's goals is to build the UI choral music education program.

"The service-learning project provides meaningful learning opportunities for our students," Cohen said. "Another primary goal with all of these service-learning experiences is building relationships and learning the value of relationships in the learning process. Written reflections, discussions and assignments such as writing a code of conduct and a classroom management essay mean more while the students are working with an actual choral ensemble."

NOTE TO EDITORS: To interview one of the UI or Willowwind students or to attend one of the service-learning rehearsals to get photos or video, call Mary Cohen at 319-335-3030 or Lois J. Gray at 319-384-0077.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Mary Cohen, UI School of Music, 319-335-3030,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,