Florida music students play ‘Lean on Me’ from their yards to honor frontline workers

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When Florida schools shut down in March because of the coronavirus, music teacher Amy Isenhower knew she wanted to organize an event that brought students together.

On Friday, her idea came to life when secondary music students from Oak Hammock K8 School in Port St. Lucie stepped outside at 7 p.m. to play “Lean on Me” – the Bill Withers classic – on their lawns to honor frontline workers and those who have sacrificed as a result of the pandemic.

“It was a very cool experience for the kids to be able to reach out to the community and to each other,” Isenhower said Monday.

The project was a “two-in-one,” she said, with students learning something new while letting essential workers know people were thinking of them, she said.

During the shutdown, students have been “cut off” from each other, Isenhower said. But if students went outside to play, “there’d be a chance they could hear other band students playing and they would feel like they weren’t actually alone,” she said.

Seventh grader Rosalia Hutchinson, 13, shared her teacher’s sentiments.

“I felt like I wasn’t the only one who cared, that there are other people who are grateful for the work others are doing,” said Hutchinson, who plays the clarinet.

She enjoyed the event and said it was “a good way to let people know that we’re grateful for what they’re doing for us. I think the song expressed that.”

The event fostered community and support among students, but there was an educational element, too, said Karen Crocco, instructional specialist for the visual and performing arts.

The project, in part, was a way to create some independence for students outside of the classroom and to learn music on their own, she said. The final musical unit for students was playing by ear.

Learning the song independently was a way to show students they can “make music without us,” Crocco said.

Instead of sheet music, students simply were provided the notes.

In one virtual class, Isenhower led a group of clarinet players through a karaoke-style lesson, or listening exercise, she said. She first played the song on her flute, then the class would break it down verse by verse.

Online learning is different, Isenhower said, but it’s also offered an opportunity for students from different classes and grade levels to participate together and help one another.

In one instance, she said, students held their instrument up to the camera to show others which keys they needed to play.

“I promote family in my class, and I really saw that, and see that in these classes,” she said.

Moving forward, Isenhower and Crocco hope the event shows students that music can be used to connect with others.

Music fosters “emotional support and social learning,” Crocco said. “It’s about knowing I’m creating something with other people.”