May 13, 2012

by Anna Mroczkowski

This week two third grade classes wrapped up their unit studying the science of sound (and school year) with a visit from local musician and producer Otis Calvin, III aka OC Notes.

He explained in detail the different valuable tools and components needed to make music but emphasized imagination as his most valued musical tool.  These third graders had been learning about the properties of sound, and the way different components work together as systems for the past few weeks. They were able to interactively apply that learning throughout the presentation and actively contributed in two great discussions about music.


They formed a line, and one by one, said their name or made a (fart) sound into a microphone. Then OC played their voices back first naturally, then really low and then really high (to massive giggles).  Both classes really liked it when he showed them what their sound waves looked like on his computer and it turned out to be a great way to visually explain dynamics.

After that, they started to build their song.

“First you have to decide what kind of song you want to make. We want something we can move to right? (kids nod excitedly) so we’re going to make a dance song” and layer by layer showed them how it worked.

The kids were squealing and laughing like crazy hearing their names and fart noises with the music and were having a lot of fun.  One kid asked “can you put this on youTube?!”

At question time, there was no shortage of hands up:

What company do you work for?  How does that microphone work? Do you play in a band? How long have you been playing music?  What kind of jobs are there in music? How come I could hear the vibration of the bass out of the speaker off this cymbal next to me? Have you recorded anyone famous? Where can I hear your music?  Why is the speaker moving?

At one point during the first session a student leaned over to me and whispered “all their mouths are open” and sure enough each kid up front was on their knees, with mouths open, completely interested in the song forming in front of them. Part of this active engagement was what he did, and the other part was the way he did it.  He came in and spoke to the kids the same way he would speak to anyone, with respect and gratitude. Kids respond to that.  One boy came in from recess after their session and shouted out “Metaaaaal Chocolates!” while he hung up his jacket in his cubby.  Otis was positive and upbeat with the kids without sugar-coating the life of an artist being difficult and used relatable descriptions like cooking with ingredients or making a pizza to explain the concept of balanced composition.  When asked what instrument he played the best he said, “I don’t play any of them great, I’m just not afraid to try”.  He challenged the kids to be creatively adventurous, follow their instincts and the critical importance of constant practice.

As he’s packing up the teacher says to Otis with kind sincerity, “I’ve been waiting a while to see lightbulbs go off for a few of them and I saw them go off today, so really, thank you so much for coming.”

On behalf of these two third grade classes, thank you OC Notes for taking the time to sit down and make art with these kids!

I was too slow to capture the whole thing but here’s a small clip of kids busting out an awesome version of Queen’s We Will Rock You after the first session.

Otis Calvin, III aka OC Notes is a musician, music producer and filmmaker in the Seattle area.  He is a member of Metal Chocolates.  For more information on OC Notes, check out his website.

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