Five students simultaneously plucked the strings of their guitars as sneakers tapped the floor to keep the song’s tempo. Their eyes shifted to follow the chords written on the sheet music as Alandra Abrams led the ensemble by playing her black guitar.
The semi-circle of seventh-grade musicians played “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” the theme song from the “Lion King” and “My Heart Will Go On,” theme song of the movie, “Titanic.”
Praise Idowu, James Lee, Iris Green, Niaundria Stevenson and Laurencia Duroseau were a part the ensemble of musicians who spent their lunch period practicing.
“When you play guitar, sometimes it can soothe you and make you feel better when you’re feeling down,” Green said. “It’s actually fun playing the guitar — and it’s actually fun learning how to play different kinds of songs, so I like this music class.”
“I think the excitement that they bring when they finally get it — just to see them shine. They come in excited. If I tell them we’re not doing guitar, some of them actually have a fit,” Abrams said.
Abrams has taught at Tilden for 17 years, but has been teaching for over 23 years. After attending a weekend workshop sponsored by the School District of Philadelphia, Abrams began teaching guitar to students. Receiving funding from the Little Kids Rock grant, a classroom set of guitars was purchased for students.
“They can express themselves in ways they can’t if they don’t have an instrument in their hands. I rather see them have a guitar and express themselves this way through music than aggressive ways,” Abrams said.
She also teaches choir to the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades. In the afternoon, sixth-grade classes learn to play bells, recorders and receive technology-based music learning on computers. Seventh-graders receive guitar and keyboard lessons during class.
“You bring the atmosphere to your kids. If you have the right attitude as a teacher you can change their behavior and I think music is a perfect way to do it because it gets to them,” Abrams said.
Some of the students are novices to guitar playing, but others have grown-up in musical families. Lee’s father played guitar. Duroseau’s mother played the harp. She now plays four instruments: piano, harp, cello and guitar.
Stevenson’s father and grandfather have played guitar. She said she would like to play clarinet and flute, but guitar is her favorite so far. She even uses her grandfather’s personal guitar to play in class.
“I grew up doing it,” Stevenson said. ‘My family is basically all about music so that’s why I play guitar.”
The first instrument that Idowu learned was guitar. He began playing at 7 years old.
“Watching people on the TV sing songs and play guitar sort of pushed me to be educated about the guitar,” Idowu said.
Through personal experience, Abrams said her middle school teacher encouraged her to be active with music. Abrams said she wants to translate the lessons she learned from her former teacher to her students at Tilden.
“I’m tough on them, but she was tough on me. She showed me love, and I show them love. I’m tough, but I show love and they know it,” Abrams said.