Students learn the heartbeat of music, math

Juilliard students bring innovative class to children in Crownpoint

Noel Lyn Smith
Cadence Joe, 9, of Standing Rock, listens to Ariel Horowitz and Leerone Hakami, with the Heartbeat Project, warm up before playing on Monday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

CROWNPOINT — The distinctive sounds of violins will travel through Navajo Technical University this week during a workshop for children that integrates music and math.

The class, which started today, is organized by the Heartbeat Project, a collaborative effort by Ariel Horowitz and Leerone Hakami, both 19-year-old violin performance majors at The Juilliard School in New York City.

"Our main goal is to provide arts education for this community and to combine that with math education. …Without math, there would be no music," Horowitz said.

The class also demonstrates how math is "super applicable" to different aspects of life, she added.

Leerone Hakami, with the Heartbeat Project, plays along with her new students on Monday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

Hakami said this is the first time she and Horowitz are teaching the class, which offers students a glimpse into the performing arts.

"I feel the technical aspect of math would be the beat, and the heart is the music, the soul. Putting it together, it creates this program," Hakami said.

Through a grant from Juilliard, the women purchased small drums, xylophones and recorders for students to use.

"There's something so visceral about music and so natural. Even today, when we were working with the kids, they so easily were able to find that pulse," Horowitz said.

Ariel Horowitz, left, and Leerone Hakami of the Heartbeat Project play for their new students on Monday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

The class takes place inside the hogan that houses the School of Graduate Studies and Research and the School of Diné Studies, Education and Leadership.

Wesley Thomas, professor and graduate dean, said he was pleased the university provided the space, as well as lodging and meals for the instructors, because opportunities such as this are needed in the community.

It also exposes children to another aspect of art, helping them think of music in a different light, he added.

Tiana Tom, 9, of Red Rock, takes part in a class through the Heartbeat Project on Monday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

During the first day of class, three students learned about rhythm and the differences between quarter, half and whole notes.

The plan is to continue teaching about musical elements, such as harmony, melody and pitch, and build on those so students can play a song, Hakami said.

After illustrating the variation between notes, Horowitz and Hakami added math into the mix by having students think about dividing pizza slices. Students learned half of a pizza is equal to a half note. And when a pizza is separated into quarter slices, it is similar to quarter notes.

"Cadence, what do we have now?" Horowitz said after drawing a musical note on a dry erase board.

"Um, a half note," Cadence Joe, 9, said after reviewing the illustration.

Ariel Horowitz, left, and Leerone Hakami, with the Heartbeat Project, teach music and math to children on Monday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

To incorporate the musical aspect, Hakami and Horowitz took turns playing the notes on their violins.

The students also learned about combining musical notes to create rhythm.

"I've never done this with music," Kyran Tso, 9, said after studying a rhythmic pattern Joe drew that had a mixture of whole and quarter notes.

Tiana Tom, 9, said she enjoyed the class because it focused on music.

"It was great. Awesome," she said.

At the end of class, Horowitz and Hakami treated students to a performance of a composition by Bach.

"Hopefully, this broadens their horizons in some way, and they can have a nice experience," Horowitz said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be contacted at 505-564-4636.