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Strike up the Band, Exit Stage Right!


In the Internet, TV, video-game age, kids draping a sheet in a garage to stage a play seems quaint. But author and performer Deborah Dunleavy wants children to create their own dramas and music, and has written guidebooks both kids and teachers can use. Included: Descriptions of music and drama activities.

Deborah Dunleavy

Staging plays and forming bands were part of children's pretend play for centuries. The prevalence of such passive entertainment as television and computer and video games, though, has led to a decline in imagination-only activities.

Performer and author Deborah Dunleavy is determined to change that, however. Dunleavy's book, The Jumbo Book of Music, shows children how to make musical instruments with household items. Her book The Jumbo Book of Drama introduces children to acting, dance, mime, radio plays, clowning, and puppetry, and contains theater games and scripts children can use. The book also explains the concepts of, and provides some history about, different musical and dramatic genres.

Dunleavy spends much of her time performing and conducting workshops for students and teachers in Canada. She recently talked with Education World about how much she enjoys being an ambassador for music, drama, and integrated arts.

Education World: How can teachers use your drama and music books in the classroom?

Deborah Dunleavy: I already have received notices that teachers are quite excited by my books. They flip through and immediately see activities they can use in the classroom. Being trained as an educator, I wanted to make the books accessible for teachers as well as children, so I followed the expectations outlined by the Ontario Ministry of Education. For instance, in The Jumbo Book of Music, I made sure that I explained "polyphonic" and "polyrhythmic" concepts.

Jumbo Music attracts classroom teachers with little or no formal music background -- and it is cost-friendly. Most of the materials suggested for making the instruments can be found around the house; teachers with no budget for the arts find that helpful. Many of the songs are familiar, so even someone who does not read music can still feel confident using the material.

These are "hands-on, get-down-and-do-it" books. One teacher looked at The Jumbo Book of Drama and commented that she loved the layout because she could just pick a page and find a ready-made lesson plan.

EW: What kind of feedback have you received from teachers who have used the books?

Dunleavy: New teachers are delighted to have found the music and drama books because the books give them oodles of ideas. Even veteran teachers are delighted at the fresh approach. I tour schools as a performing artist and workshop facilitator. Frequently, I introduce my books and the teachers already have them and have been using them in the classroom.

EW:What prompted you to write these two jumbo books?

Dunleavy: It was a chance meeting with editor Linda Biesenthal at the Ontario "Reading For The Love Of It" conference that led to the idea of writing the music book. The drama book was a natural follow up for me because I have specialized in music and drama for children for close to 25 years.

EW: How do you use the books in your workshops?

Dunleavy: I try to make specific references, but so much of what is in the books is instinctively in what I already do. I have led many "trash band" workshops with ideas from Jumbo Music. That included building musical sculptures and instruments from found objects. I also have done numerous education residencies called "Story Musicals" which feature ideas from Jumbo Drama. Those were made possible through grants from the Ontario Arts Council. I also am an artist with Mariposa In The Schools, MASC, and The Storytellers' School of Toronto. Basically, I am constantly in the schools doing my music, drama, and integrated arts activities.

EW: What has surprised you most when conducting workshops?

Dunleavy: What keeps me going is the delight, enthusiasm, joy, and sense of creative adventure exhibited by both teachers and students. They thirst for these opportunities. Teachers are so overburdened with paperwork and accountability that they seldom have a chance to explore the creative side of learning.

"No pleasure, no learning; no learning, no pleasure." -- Wang Ken, 4th Century poet and philosopher.

EW: What do pretend play activities offer children who spend a lot of time in front of a television or computer?

Dunleavy: My 7-year-old stepdaughter had to attend her older brother's soccer game, so I brought along Jumbo Drama. Within minutes, a group of other "tag-a- long" kids were doing the mime and movement games. The books encourage interpersonal activities -- getting together with friends to play the old-fashioned way. The books allow children to be the masters of their own imaginations in a three-dimensional setting. The books do not do things for the kids. The kids do things with the books. That's hard to do with a TV set.

EW: Because of budget cuts, do you expect more classroom teachers will be taking over art and music activities?

Dunleavy: That is a constant struggle for educators. I just completed a residency in which staff members used their professional developments funds to have me in the classroom. That way, they were able to have a practical experience in the arts. That particular school has an enthusiastic teacher who is going to continue with the plays the children created so they can be performed in a spring concert.

I always look for the gift the teacher can bring into the classroom. One teacher brought in her guitar, something she had never done before. Another teacher used sign language. I encourage teachers to use the talent and abilities they feel most comfortable sharing.

It is a shame that, in this time of conservatism, the arts are the first to go. I am appalled at the lack of music, drama, and arts specialists for the schools. Yes, I often am brought in for a week, and the teachers use that time for their arts evaluation. That is pathetic. In Ontario, there are curriculum guidelines with unreasonable expectations being placed on the classroom teacher. The teachers are expected to teach what they have not been trained to teach.

I guess I have a mission -- to encourage and suggest ways of keeping the arts alive. One inner city school I have visited frequently has a band program for grades 6-8. The teachers agreed to take more students in their classrooms so they could keep the instrumental teacher. They realized that music was vital to the complete health of the school. It has made a significant difference.

This e-interview with Deborah Dunleavy is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Originally published 11/19/2004; updaged 02/24/2005