Making Melodies and Making Learning Stick!

“All right, students, turn your theory books to page 15.  Today we will be learning about composition and how accompaniment relates to melody.  By the end of today’s lecture, you will be able to identify melodic steps, skips and leaps, recognize harmony and how composers add color to pieces with harmonics and sound effects like ponticello, tremolo, pizzicato and more. We will listen to recordings of pieces by Schubert, Bach, Shostakovich and Beethoven…”  zzzzzzzz… snoozeville — Oh no, not with Wolfgang Amadeus Schmutzinberry in the house!


Rami Vamos, elementary school music teacher, Lincoln Center teaching artist and playwright has created a fabulous and funny character, composer, Wolfgang  Amadeus Schmutzinberry, to introduce children to sophisticated musical concepts, compositions and engender a life-long understanding and love of chamber music. Rami has countless Schmutzinberry plays and performances under his belt. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to join him on stage for the past 5 years during the DoCha (Downtown Champaign) Chamber Music Festival. Each year, we have performed a new piece written and arranged by Vamos, exploring concepts like composition, rhythm and mood, with the aid of trios and quartets on stage, playing wonderful pieces live for children and families to experience in fun and interactive ways.

For the past three years, I have come back down to Champaign from my home in Chicago because I feel so strongly about the type of theatre Rami is producing and that the festival embraces. This is a wonderful introduction to chamber music and also a brilliant example of successful education theatre.  Educational theater is my passion and I believe it is the most effective method for creating meaningful learning experiences. Instead of teaching at students, educational theatre places them directly in the middle of the experience, engaging them in interactive problem solving and encourages curiosity and emotional engagement.

Instead of just talking about the concepts of melodic steps, skips and leaps, Rami demonstrates using a ladder and climbing up the rungs as the piano plays a melody from Beethoven’s Archduke Trio.

DoCha 2015 ladder

His character, Wolfgang Amadeus Schmutzinberry, creates a framework around any concept he is looking to teach.  The goofiness and in-expertise of his character creates a way-in where young students are able to become the experts, laughing and learning along with Schmutzinberry as he successfully navigates his culminating composition; demonstrating all of the new concepts learned during the performance!

Bravo, Schmutzinberry! Here’s to many more new compositions and the next generation of chamber music fans engaged through educational theatre!

DoCha Grandma

I’ll look forward to seeing you next year at the 2016 DoCha Young Peoples’ Concert! To learn more about the festival and how you can support through individual or corporate donation, please visit DoCha’s website.DoCha 2013

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One thought on “Making Melodies and Making Learning Stick!

  1. So true! I was there and I saw children as young as three years old laughing and delighted and having a wonderful time learning sophisticated music concepts, unbeknownst to them, of course. Someday maybe they’ll realize what they learned when it becomes apparent that they have a deeper understanding of music than their peers who were not lucky enough to have seen Rami’s show at an early age. Bravo Rami, Natalie and the entire Docha team!

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