Bryant Montalvo was teaching abroad when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and he knew it was time to come home. When the opportunity to begin a new choral program at Central Falls High School presented itself, he couldn’t pass it up — even though his classes would be taught 100% remotely. “Most students who were on my class roster didn’t even know that music was being offered! Because of distance learning, creating traditional music ensembles was not feasible, so I created and developed the current curricula for Music Composition and Music Production classes solely around music technology to give my students an immediate, hands-on learning experience with music,” Montalvo explains.
In Music Composition 1 and 2, students utilize music notation software to build the necessary foundational skills of music literacy. Students create their own melodies and compositions and with the software’s playback capabilities, they can immediately hear what their work sounds like on various instruments.
In Music Production, students learn how to use a digital audio workstation to create their own beats, loops, remixes and original work through solo and collaborative tasks. The class also listens to and analyzes pop, hip-hop and current top-chart songs. “By utilizing the music that is currently streamed into the headphones of my students, the music room becomes a student-led learning environment,” Montalvo says. “I designed this course to be project based, so each student has useful, lifelong skills as well as a digital portfolio of work to share.”
Watch this fun YouTube video that Montalvo made at the end of the last school year where he raps about the new music courses!
Central Falls is a Title I school where the majority of students are immigrants. Montalvo tells his classes that “in music, it takes everybody. You cannot leave a single person out when creating music, and everyone has to work together,” he says. He builds community among his students by ensuring that everyone learns and uses others’ names in the classroom to ensure that all students feel valued and respected. Montalvo’s students also drive their own learning and select repertoire they want to work on.
Montalvo also uses movement activities and games (which, Montalvo says, aren’t reserved for elementary students). “My high school students love a challenge when they have to work together, such as games that require beat making, keeping time and collaboration,” he says.
The music program at Central Falls was started thanks to a portion of ESSER funds granted to the school. Montalvo also applied for five grants in the last year — and received all of them. “One of the grants we received was from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to start a new Tri-M Music Honor Society Chapter,” Montalvo says. “I am excited to be the first music teacher at Central Falls High School to induct students into this honor society this year at honors night.”