DePaul's School of Music inspires students in Englewood

Jaclyn Jensen
October 15, 2014

To Jacqueline Kelly-McHale, learning music is not just a way to improve a child's math score.  To her, it is a tool for expression, creativity and imagination.

Kelly- McHale is an associate professor at DePaul University's School of Music whose teachings include composition in the K-12 classroom.  Last spring, she and five of her students, who were preparing to student teach, applied their lessons to an elementary classroom. 

For five weeks, they travelled to the Donald L. Morrill Math and Science School in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood to teach 25 fifth and sixth grade students how to express themselves using the arts.

When Kelly-McHale introduced Paul Klee's painting, "The Twittering Machine," to the class, she asked the students to describe how the watercolor of sketched birds standing on a wire looked to them musically.

The words the students used to describe the painting transformed into a cinquain poem.  The poem transformed into compositions where students created their own musical piece.

"All too often, school is very regimented so when we gave students opportunities to explore composition and improvisation, we gave them ways to access experiences that are outside of who they are," Kelly-McHale says.

Kelly-McHale gave not only Morrill students a unique experience last year, but also provided 70 DePaul students with a unique perspective when the university wind symphony played at the school.

 "Most of my students live in the suburbs and have never gone beyond where the 'L' can take them.  I felt that it was important for them to see the neighborhood the students live in," she says. 

The ensemble drove through the Englewood neighborhood where condemned houses are marked by a red X.  They played for a school where 78 percent of student population is below the poverty line, 4 percent of the students are homeless and 99 percent eat free or reduced lunch.

"For many of the elementary students, our performance was the closest thing they've heard to a professional wind ensemble.  It was one of the times where we, at the School of Music, could realize the Vincentian mission and apply it in a meaningful way," Kelly-McHale says.

The wind symphony played Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" and Cindy McTee's "California Counterpoint: The Twittering Machine."  Like the students' work, McTee's composition was also inspired by Klee's painting.

Kelly-McHale hopes to find ways to continue working with Morrill to ensure that young students can continue to experience the musical arts in an expressive way.