Kenneth Perkins started the Joseph Keels Elementary (JKE) chorus in 2012 — his first year as a music teacher. That year, he had about 12 kids in the choir, and for the winter concert, they performed “a whopping five songs accompanied by me on the piano,” he says. After that first year, Perkins’ music program grew each year until 2020 when COVID hit.
An offshoot of his large chorus was the recorder ensemble that he assembled to play with the singers. Perkins says, “We played fun songs around the neighborhood, traveled to nursing homes, participated in festivals and even went to Carowinds [an amusement park in North Carolina]!”
Fun is a constant element in Perkins’ classroom. “I try to create a fun learning environment that is filled with plenty of movement,” he says. “Children learn by doing and because of that, I believe in having my students do and perform as much as physically possible. Music-making is at its peak level when all children can participate and feel like they are contributing to the process.”
Even at the elementary level, Perkins actively seeks new and culturally relevant information that he can merge into his lessons. “This allows my lessons to be more fresh and unique,” he says. “In many ways, I give students a choice in the direction that our music lessons can go. They have shown me that they relish these opportunities — which may be as simple as allowing my kindergarten students to choose between playing instruments or playing a game — which encourages me to do even more.”
Outside the classroom, Perkins is just as enthusiastic. “Throughout the school, I try to do as much as I can to spread the joy and beauty of music to both adults and children,” he says. “For adults, I formed a faculty and staff choir and sought voices that were trained and untrained to join. It was a smashing success — the faculty choir performs for several programs throughout the school year.”
He continues, “For the younger grade levels, I am constantly seeking field trips to the ballet or to the local orchestra at the Koger Center. For the older students, I’ve showcased their talents on our acclaimed morning news shows. Students have played the recorder, violin and even sung on air!”
JKE is also involved in the University of South Carolina Strings Project that selects 25 students by lottery and offers them string lessons. Perkins has contributed to selected students for that program as well.