2017-03-02 / Front Page

MUSIC COMES TO LIFE AT LAWN

Seventh-graders turn junk into instruments
BY RYAN GIBBS


Colette Fortenberry clamps wood onto a cigar box to steady the pieces before boring holes into the neck of her guitar using a drill press. Seventh-graders were busy building their instruments Tuesday morning in the Lawn School makerspace. 
PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Colette Fortenberry clamps wood onto a cigar box to steady the pieces before boring holes into the neck of her guitar using a drill press. Seventh-graders were busy building their instruments Tuesday morning in the Lawn School makerspace. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN The concept of making music has been re-tuned at Lawn School.

Groups of seventh-graders spent February fashioning cigar boxes and PVC pipes into makeshift instruments at the middle school’s makerspace. The classroom, which opened in September, is a workshop in the library dedicated to hands-on projects. Band teacher Karyn Kauffman spearheaded the instrumental pilot program.

Assignments that involve firsthand construction traditionally have followed the STEM curriculum, a model that combines science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In recent years, however, an A for art has been added to the acronym. When Kauffman was approached with an opportunity to tap the makerspace, she made sure to incorporate the A.


ABOVE: Bridget Toland strings her guitar. ABOVE: Bridget Toland strings her guitar. “Within STEAM is the arts,” she said. “I wanted to do something that had to do with music and engineering, and put it all together with technology.”

The project began with the school year. Students in each seventh-grade class were split into groups of four, and each quartet had to select an instrument to research methods of manufacturing.

After designing their instruments on paper, the groups were tasked with following those blueprints to build an instrument with at least five pitches. Aside from the percussion family, the students had free range selecting their instrument.

“It can’t just be a drum with sound,” Kauffman said. “It has to be pitched so that they could create a song with it.”

For inspiration, Kauffman screened a video of musicians in Paraguay that formed the Recycled Orchestra. The instruments played by the South American band were exclusively built from items found in the trash.


RIGHT: Diego Branciforte saws a piece of wood into a guitar bridge. RIGHT: Diego Branciforte saws a piece of wood into a guitar bridge. After finalizing their design, the students compiled a shopping list of materials needed to build their instruments. Some of these items were purchased using money in the STEAM fund, while other supplies were brought from home by the students.

With the design and shopping phases finished, the students returned from winter break and began the building process using the classroom’s array of tools and presses. Since then, they have been busy turning pieces of wood and pipe into saxophones, guitars, harps and pianos.

“It’s very much like a woodworking class right now,” Kauffman said.

Hannah Contino and Courtney Danchak are building a water-pitched piano after discovering the design online.

“When you hit a key, it goes up and hits a vial that has different amounts of water in it,” Danchak explained. “There’s a bunch of them that have different pitches.”

Their classmates, Izzie Clow, Sophie Long, Rileigh Gouveia and Olivia Rogers, have been building a pan-pipe using six differently sized pieces of PVC pipe.

“We’re going to string them together and make different pitches when we cover the holes,” Clow said. “It was the least complicated design, but the most fun at the same time.”

Rogers said her team got off to a “rocky start.” They did not receive all their materials on time, then lost one of their pipes. They ultimately decided to re-measure and re-cut their missing piece.

Alongside the students during their construction phase has been technology director Samira Hakki. She has been teaching the dynamics of handsaws, drills, clamps and power tools, and has also helped with troubleshooting. For example, she spent a weekend building a cigar box guitar at home after watching a team struggle to attach the necks to their boxes.

“A lot of the kids were not putting the necks of the guitar all the way through the cigar boxes,” she said.

The students understood the concept after Hakki presented her instrument to the class.

Madeline Washburn and Holly de Gray Birch’s team originally planned to make that guitar, but didn’t have the right materials. Instead, they decided to build a harp from the cigar boxes. During Friday’s class, de Gray Birch finished cutting their harp’s sound-hole using an electric saw.

“We did about one-fourth of it last class, and then it took us 10 to 15 minutes to finish it,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with it so far.”

The students have enjoyed making their own instruments.

“It’s interesting because we get to learn new things and do things we haven’t done before,” Washburn said.

“I think it’s really cool because I really don’t think that many people in our grade do woodworking that often,” Danchak said. “It’s a good way to incorporate that.”

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