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Blog: The Light of Aurora

​Instrumental Music at Aurora Waldorf School

10:50 AM - August 10, 2023

​Instrumental Music at Aurora Waldorf School

Making music together with others is one of the most archetypically joyful human experiences. Singing, drumming, blowing into tubes, scraping across resonant strands…whatever the mode of expression or age of the music-maker, music, as Plato noted, “leads to all that is just and beautiful.” Students at Aurora Waldorf School sing throughout their school days, beginning in Pre-K, and experience the social satisfaction of listening and collaborating musically right from the start of their education.

Singing continues throughout the grades, including in general music classes and multi-grade choruses in middle school. In addition, all students learn to play the recorder, starting with the pentatonic (5-tone) flute in Grade 1 and advancing to soprano, alto, and tenor recorders. Singing and recorder playing are also featured in the daily main lesson and annual class plays.

Orchestra and Band

Since the early days of AWS, string and band instrument lessons and ensembles have played a prominent role in the older students’ subject class curriculum.

These ensembles are not optional, just for interested or musically talented students, but are required classes for all students from Grade 4 through Grade 8. The Orchestra and Band meet twice weekly and are taught by instrumental music specialists; they perform periodically at assemblies and festivals throughout the school year. All students beginning in Grade 5 also take a weekly half-hour private or semi-private music lesson on their chosen instruments.


String lessons traditionally are introduced in Grade 4, with small group lessons (2-4 students) meeting weekly. All AWS students start with their choice of a stringed instrument: violin, viola, cello, or bass. The benefits of applying a bow across four strings are many, and among them is the particularly valuable movement of “crossing the midline.” Educators and physical therapists have long recognized that the activity of using both hands across the (imaginary) midline running down the middle of the body develops both sides of the brain and improves coordination for fine and gross motor tasks.

Other important benefits, including ear training, manual dexterity, and building a habit of daily practice, are almost impossible to achieve in the current environment of social media, video games, and other screen-based activities. Of course, making beautiful music is the goal, and hearing and learning music literature and individual practice lead naturally to playing in the AWS Orchestra beginning in Grade 5.

Woodwinds and Brass

As we know, not every child will find satisfaction playing a string instrument. Offering trumpets, trombones, French horns, baritone horns, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, etc., opens up a whole new world of music-making. As we also learned, students’ temperaments can be addressed effectively by working with these other instruments, giving more harmonious “voices” to sometimes antisocial tendencies!

Typically at the end of Fourth Grade, a band teacher visits the class to demonstrate various wind and brass instruments. Students who switch to a band instrument take private or semi-private lessons and, when appropriate, join the AWS Band, usually approximately halfway through the school year.

Why Go Through the Effort and Expense?

Myriad scientific studies have surfaced over the last decades, extolling the salutary effects of the study of music and the neurobiological mechanisms involved. Musical training helps children process language better, and brain activity is more focused and efficient. But, of course, there is so much more, as JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, wrote in a 2003 Traffic East article entitled “Music and the Mind”:

Recent research about the structure of the brain and nervous system and their relationship to music has yielded astounding results. Different aspects of music - tone, pitch, melody and rhythm - are processed in different parts of the brain, making music one of the most complex experiences the brain encounters. Practicing an instrument actually triggers physical changes in the brain. Intensive practicing…leads to a discernable enlargement of parts of the cerebral cortex, the layer of gray matter closely associated with higher brain function. Many of the world’s doctors, scientists and mathematicians have played musical instruments since childhood….

[M]usic can affect levels of various hormones…and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates. Using PET scanners, scientists have shown that parts of the brain involved in processing emotion “light up” with activity when a subject hears music….

I often tell parents that music education is one of the single greatest gifts they can give their children. A music education encourages high achievement, fosters a suppleness of mind, a tolerance for ambiguity, an appreciation for nuance. It helps us to think and work across traditional disciplines, to integrate knowledge in unique ways. It teaches us to work cooperatively. It builds an understanding of diversity and the multi-cultural dimensions of our world….[and] can nurture and stimulate all aspects of creativity. And, at a time when the very survival of the human race seems threatened, few things could be more important than nurturing creativity, humanity, and appreciation for beauty.

Technology hurtles us forward at increasingly dizzying speeds. But the soul, silent pilgrim that it is, trudges forward slowly, never willing to be hurried. That quiet, slow journey is how we will know ourselves….I believe that music can be the extraordinary vessel that transports us on that continuing journey of exploration. [Read Falletta’s entire article at]

Transition to High School

Many Western New York public high schools are nationally recognized for outstanding instrumental music programs. Participation in AWS music ensembles prepares them to transition seamlessly to high school bands and orchestras. As a 43-year veteran of high school music programs and an avid AWS supporter stated, music is “a proven way to keep high school students out of trouble!”

Final Note On the Blessing of Daily Practice

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." [emphasis added]

--- Calvin Coolidge

Jane Ried is Board President of Aurora Waldorf School, an alum parent, and former Music Teacher

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