Summer vacation provided an interesting opportunity to explore virtual learning with students at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. When the 2019-2020 school ended, students entering the fifth grade were presented with an open invitation to participate in a free summer music workshop with the Del Sol String Quartet. Our stated goal: To work with workshop participants to create a book and recording of an original musical composition for The Del Sol String Quartet & Huang Ruo’s “Your Wall is Our Canvas: The Angel Island Project.”
With a more relaxed summer schedule, the pre-workshop assignments and on-line music workshop were designed to give students a self-driven, hands-on arts exploration over the course of a month. Students were presented with two assignments, in advance of a July 13th online Zoom workshop with the members of Del Sol. The online workshop aimed to create a low-stress experience where the participating students would have fun socially connecting with their peers through musical play.
A Change of Perspective with Digital Photography
The first summer assignment explored digital photography, through a series of prompts, inspired by nine collaborative poems written by the 4th grade class. Using a camera can help to open up new ways of appreciating and enjoying familiar physical surrounds, and the students had been sheltering in place at home since March 13. After confirming that each student had access to a cell phone that would enable them to take digital photos, the workshop participants were presented with nine exercises that would encourage students to explore their everyday surroundings. When we gathered online, it was a fun treat to enjoy seeing each of the individual responses to the same prompt and appreciate the personal way that each photographer addressed the assignment.
A Sonic Scavenger Hunt
The second assignment was inspired by Del Sol musical collaborator, composer Danny Clay, who enjoys creating playful games that help people to create music together. His Sonic Scavenger Hunt calls for students to look for objects at home based on a list of ten sounds types.
An eclectic collection of sounds, gathered at home by Leah:
Students brought their discoveries to the workshop, and together the group explored how their mini-orchestras could be put together into a musical composition. Students were also invited to record three sounds that describe “home,” found either inside their homes or outside. Sound of Home is the resulting collection, preserved for the future on the Internet Archive.
In addition to the sounds gathered at home by 4th graders, another collection, Sound of Home: San Francisco was recorded from a variety of San Francisco locations, and both collections shared in celebration of World Listening Day 2020. Since 2010, every July 18th, thousands of people all over the world have participated in World Listening Day by sharing soundscapes, in remembrance of renowned Canadian composer, music educator, and author, R. Murray Schafer. His World Soundscape Project developed the fundamental ideas and practices of acoustic ecology in the 1970s.
Teaching artist Andi Wong’s first visit to Angel Island was in 1989, when she and her husband brought her father-in-law Billy back to the island, for the very first time since he was admitted to the United States in February of 1931. Touring the barracks, Billy shared painful childhood memories of being held on the island for 18 days, not knowing when he would be allowed to leave. He sadly recalled how lonely and isolated he felt, especially when evening fell, and the sounds of music and people laughing drifted across the Bay.
The familiar soothing sounds of ocean waves lapping at the shore opens the collaborative musical composition featuring our youth orchestra of found sound. A new poem shared by artist/poet Flo Oy Wong, spoken in the Hoisan-wa dialect of the Angel Island immigrant poets, transitions to the sounds of the Del Sol String Quartet, playing a musical selection from composer Huang Ruo.
九 9 Poems for “Your Wall is Our Canvas: The Angel Island Project”
“九 9 poems for Your Wall is Our Canvas: The Angel Island Project,” an online book of the poetry and artwork created by the soon-to-be 5th graders at Dianne Feinstein Elementary, builds upon existing school programming. 2020 marked the tenth anniversary of Author’s Day at DFES, a highly anticipated school event which brings children’s book authors and illustrators to read to children in every classroom. Sadly, this event was cancelled, along with most of the arts events planned for Spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working to help the students to create their own book was a nice way to acknowledge this special school tradition. By archiving the book of student poems, photographs and essays on the Internet Archive for open access and download, this project also offers an example of how bookmaking might be explored by classes in the future. In addition to the students, staff key to the history of the school, the librarian Carol Fuerth and the art teacher Sharon Collins, were also engaged in the project, and the history of their contributions acknowledged, recorded and preserved for the future.
Reflections on Learning: 2019-2020
The Del Sol String Quartet’s partnership with Dianne Feinstein Elementary School is as an example of an integrated, expansive artistic collaboration that is possible with community engagement. In a time that calls for both collective imagination and coordinated action, there is great benefit in giving young people the opportunity to learn alongside artists, who model both discipline and adaptability in art and life.
The artistic project also serves as a record of an unusual time, when so much of what was considered to be “normal” changed. There will certainly be challenges ahead in these most uncertain of times, but as students, teachers and families prepare to begin a new school year, we take a moment of reflection to appreciate the lessons that we learned in 2020.
“Since we can’t go to school, I really miss it. I miss DFES, my friends, my teachers, and everything from DFES. I grew up there and can’t believe I used to be in Kindergarten. DFES is important to me because of everything I have learned there.”
In the course of developing this project with the school community, personal connections were made, internal resources discovered, and bridges were built across generations, between school and home. This arts project encouraged and amplified the diverse voices of a school’s community, while recording and preserving community history. Children were presented with a multitude of ways to reflect upon their own personal identities and consider the importance of their family, school and culture, as they created their own works of art. Del Sol String Quartet’s Angel Island Project at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School presented an opportunity to see Art as the Ocean, not just as the Island.
And the learning continues…
“Your Wall is Our Canvas: the Angel Island Project,” composed by Huang Ruo and performed by the Del Sol String Quartet with the contemporary chamber choir, Volti, will weave a story of immigration and discrimination of then and now. https://www.delsolquartet.com/angelisland
This project is supported in part by the Hewlett Foundations 50 Arts Commissions, the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation and the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation. Del Sol String Quartet’s partnership with Dianne Feinstein ES, was made possible thanks to an Artists and Communities Partnership – Creative Youth Arts (ACIP-CY) grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission.