Don’t be surprised if, while wandering through our halls, you encounter a classroom full of first graders chanting: “Nnnnnuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” These ringing notes are but a few of the many that you’ll hear daily at St. Benedict Classical Academy. A component of our school’s implementation of the Ward Method for Musical Instruction, these vocal warm-ups are practiced routinely in our first through sixth grade classrooms.
Why this “Ward Method”? Why a daily music class? Here at St. Benedict’s we support the arts. We recognize that the study of music is an essential part of a child’s formation. The Ward Method, in particular, exposes children to a spiritual world of truth and beauty through a carefully crafted curriculum integrating the child’s intellect with their emotional nature. From pitch-matching games to conducting exercises, only the most beautiful melodies from folk, classical, and sacred traditions are sung. Affirming Plato’s definition of music as “an art so ordering sound as to orient the soul aspiring to virtue”, the method promotes an aesthetic and spiritual experience in the classroom. It is there where technical musical skill is not only sought to be mastered, but also used as a means to form virtues in the child, like self-mastery and perseverance.
The method, in practice, relates body and soul through daily vocal and rhythmic exercises training eyes, ears, memory and muscles to discover musical patterns and ordered rhythm. Students learn the basics of sight-reading through solfege (do-re-mi, etc.), hand gestures and intonation exercises. Children are also given opportunities to compose short songs using principles they’ve learned from each lesson. These songs are then taught and sung by the “composers” to their fellow classmates. Listening is a key component of the Ward classroom, where within weeks, students are able to discern beautiful sounds from those that are not. All these principles are taught at a developmentally appropriate pace, building off each step of gained knowledge day by day.
Most importantly, the pinnacle of Ward instruction is applied weekly at our Tuesday Mass with Fr. Stamm, where our choristers faithfully sing from a variety of chants and hymns lauded by Catholic tradition. “We are here to create something new and beautiful for God”, writes Headmaster Boren in last week’s blog post; “This is our mission each day. Our school exists to educate students in all that is Good, True, and Beautiful.” What a beautiful mission to remind ourselves of as we begin a new music class each day! To quote Ms. Justine Ward, the creator of the Ward Method: we have to “start building the Church through God’s children, that all may sing, not merely a talented few, for music belongs to all of God’s children!” Just so, we at St. Benedict Classical Academy aspire to build the Church through transmitting the Beautiful in song each day.
Author: Cassandra Borges, Ward Music Instructor