OrchestraA friend recently sent me a link to a video on the Recycled Orchestra, in which young musicians in Cateura, Paraguay, play instruments made of trash. I found it to be both inspiring and thought-provoking.

This 3½-minute documentary tells of a community of people who live in a slum built on a landfill. When someone there discovered the discarded shell of a violin, a remarkable idea ignited within the neighborhood: to imagine how they might advocate for the children in their community to learn to play musical instruments. In a place where “a violin is worth more than a house,” residents have built cellos made from recycled oil cans, made use of kitchen tools and bent fork tines to hold violin strings, and generated orchestral music where such music had been rare. Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature-length documentary about how this happened.

Watching the video, I saw joy and a bright intelligence in the faces of these young people, and felt these qualities resonating through their compelling music. I was also struck by their rhythmic and coordinated movement—synchronous behavior that is the essence of many kinds of group activities. I was seeing the evidence of at least four out of eight kinds of intelligence, from Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, as interpreted by educator Thomas Armstrong*: Musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, and logical-mathematical (pattern recognition).

In Edu-K, Paul and I describe two kinds of attention, which we detail in our Focus Dimension. Beyond focal attention, we teach learners to access a second kind of lesser-known attention, often referred to as ambient awareness*, or what Armstrong refers to as Spatial Intelligence—an ability to sense one’s environment . This contextual awareness allows a person to feel safe in the room, while the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence keeps them sitting comfortably upright in their chair, able to stay aware of their whole body as they move just one part, such as their eyes for reading or their hand for writing. It is in part this ambient attention that a group of singers, dancers, musicians—even players of active games or sports—must call on in order to stay in sync with one another.

I’m familiar with this kind of coordinated rhythmic movement, as it’s noticeable when we do The Cross Crawl  or other Brain Gym® or Vision Gym® activities with a group. Doing simple movements together creates an immediate connectedness among people, bringing smiles to faces. There’s something joyful about a synchrony like this.

Does synchrony help with academics? I’ve heard educator Randal McChesney (who teaches coordinated movement in the Education Through Movement  program) speak of group singing as being supportive of vocal intonation and the poetic rhythm of prosody needed for fluent reading. And I see evidence all the time of coordinated movement being an important touchstone for the development of language skills.

For more on the hypothesis of the what and where streams, see Ungerleider, L. G., and Haxby, J. V (1994). “What” and “where” in the human brain. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 4, 157–165.

Ungerleider, L. G. and Pasternak, T. (2004). Ventral and dorsal cortical processing streams. In “The Visual Neurosciences” (L.M. Chalupa and J.S. Werner, eds.) pp. 541-562. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

For more research on interpersonal synchrony and its effects on social bonds, see:

Cirelli, Laura K., Kathleen M. Einarson, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. “Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants.” Developmental Science: This study of 14-month olds  “. . . support[s] the hypothesis that interpersonal motor synchrony might be one key component of musical engagement that encourages social bonds among group members, and suggest[s] that this motor synchrony to music may promote the very early development of altruistic behavior.”

Shaw DJ, Czekóová K, Chromec J, Mareček R, Brázdil M (2013) Copying You Copying Me: Interpersonal Motor Co-Ordination Influences Automatic Imitation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084820

Hove MJ, Risen JL (2009) It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition 27: 949–960. doi: 10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949 PubMed/NCBI

*Educator Howard Gardner did pioneering work on the theory of Multiple Intelligences in the early 1980’s. Educator Thomas Armstrong has interpreted this work in several books, including Seven Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences Plume, 1999, and Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life, Da Capo Lifelong Books; 2011. Besides the four intelligences named here, Armstrong also names the well-known linguistic intelligence, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (emotional) intelligence, 

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

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