Behind the Scenes with Rhonda Patten, Beginning School Music Teacher

If you hear someone say, “I’ll meet you in the Well,” make your way to the Beginning School and step inside the window-filled lobby. To your left you’ll see a sunken space where students, teachers, and families gather at different times throughout the day.

Music classes in the Beginning School are arguably one of the most joyful and lively periods in the children’s day. The purpose of Beginning School music class is for students to playfully engage in music learning so that they develop a sense of themselves as music makers, and they leave the Beginning School with a disposition to learn more about music.

Dr. John Feierabend calls this “Tune-ful, Beat-ful, Art-ful.” He also describes this as a 30-year plan, meaning we hope to instill in children a joy of music that lasts a lifetime so that 30 years from now, they will dance at a family celebration, clap along to songs at concerts, and sing a lullaby to an infant.

Classes are filled with singing, playing instruments, dancing and moving, and always sharing at least one story. Stories set to music introduce rich language, rhythm, repetition, and beautiful imagery to students (and grown-ups, too!).

Singing together can create wonderful and lasting memories. We hope you enjoy learning these story-songs that Catlin Gabel’s youngest children know well, and sing along with them soon:

If you’re interested in reading a musical story together (either in person or virtually), there are countless options available. Looking at a book and singing the words together is a perfect way to connect songs across generations. From folk songs to nursery rhymes, here are a few of our students’ perennial favorites:

  • “Risseldy Razzoldy”, by Feierabend and Poulin
  • “This Land is Your Land”, by Woody Guthrie
  • “There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly”, by Simms Taback
  • “Little Goblins Ten”, by Pamela Jane
  • “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, by Mildred Hayes

These titles are most likely available at your local library or bookstore. If purchasing a book feels good, perhaps get two copies - one to keep and one to send to your loved ones. And may you experience the joy that our children do in music class!

Get to Know Rhonda

Rhonda Patten Beginning School Music Teacher leading Friday Sing

How long have you worked at Catlin Gabel?

I started in the fall of 2006, so this is my 15th year in the Beehive.

What is your favorite part about working with young children?

My favorite part about working with young children is “joy,” which describes the moment when a child spontaneously launches into a song. Also, it’s the moment when a child becomes so immersed in a song that when the song ends, they ask to sing it again.

I also love those moments when we are all together in the Well singing something like Lil ’Liza Jane… standing, clapping, jumping, and singing in canon with each other.

If you could sing with anyone in history, who would it be?

That’s a long list! I met Tom Chapin once back in the 1990s and I was so tongue tied I couldn’t form a cogent sentence.

I’d love to sing with Rhiannon Giddens, Stan Rogers, or Jimmy Buffett.

Mostly, though, I am patiently waiting for the time when it is safe to gather all together in the Well and create joyful sounds together.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The last thing I’d like to share is that I know exactly one song in Maori: “Pokarekare Ana”. On one occasion I found myself at a retirement party for a Maori physician (in New Zealand), and got to sing “Pokarekare Ana” with a group of Maori persons.

It was awesome.

What made it awesome was that a song that held meaning for me as an individual connected me to people I didn’t know before that evening. And that is what I hope the songs from the Beginning School do for our students. I hope that the songs take root in their heads and linger there until the moment comes when a song they know can connect them to other humans.