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Capturing Literature and Seizing Sound

Last summer, I took my children on a family vacation to Utah.Т  At the zoo we fed rhinos and watched elephants paint masterpieces, and we drove to the top of the mountains to play in the snow and take in the scenery.Т  When we enjoy beautiful moments like these, it’s impossible to capture each second with a camera.Т  Weeks later we sifted through the pictures and chose the best ones for our album- the ones that captured the beauty of the landscape and our enjoyment of our time together.

This year through the PAGES program, I was reminded of this process.Т  The students and I visited the Wexner Center to experienceТ A Thousand Thoughts: A Live Documentary by Sam Green and Kronos Quartet.Т Before our visit, we explored the ways in which language and sound coexist, the ways sounds in words express meaning and tone.Т  Saxophonist, composer and teacher Michael Torres helped us toy with sounds and analyze what they communicate.

One activity involved each student recording a “found sound” on their phones to share in class.Т  In the midst of our busy days, we often overlook the many sounds that compose the soundtrack of our lives- a winter coat zipper zipping, coffee beans grinding in the grinder, water sloshing and swirling down the drain while we wash dishes.Т  Students shared their sounds without revealing the source and while listening, we wrote.Т  We described a perspective, a scene, a character, or a story.Т  Michael played his saxophone to mimic and speak back to the sounds.Т  The students’ writing was highly imaginative and descriptive and they were engaged in sharing their varied interpretations.Т  What’s truly amazing is that they automatically took their writing to a higher level without prompting.Т  Instead of writing, “This sounds like a machine making a noise”, they wrote things like, “Tick, tick, hum, crunch.Т  She slowly churned the handle, allowing the rhythmic motion and redundant sounds lull her into a trance.”

Another activity incorporatedТ The Scarlet Letter.Т  We had been reading the novel in class and students were so preoccupied with figuring out the plot, characters and tensions that they had lost sight of an appreciation for Hawthorne’s prose.Т  Arts educator, poet and PAGES founder Dionne Custer Edwards pulled individual sentences from the novel, sentences that were figurative, alliterative, and/or euphonious.Т  Students came into the room and found a sentence on their desk.Т  They each read their sentence aloud and discussed the arrangement of the words, sounds and meaning.Т  Then they wrote, and again, students pushed themselves to mimic the elevated diction of Hawthorne’s writing.

PAGES taught us that much like choosing photos for a family album, we can (and should) slow down, isolate and appreciate more fully the music that makes up our daily lives and isolate and appreciate the individual words and sentences that weave together to create literature.


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