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Resident Artists Enrich Aster’s Classroom

A Montessori classroom welcomes the child to a symphony of sensorial experiences. One child’s small fingers trace the rough edges of a sandpaper letter, while another child uses a quiet hand to grade 10 pink cubes into a tower. The child not only sees and hears what “h” is, but feels the curves of the letter. The child not only sees the shift of the size in cubes from largest to smallest, but feels the weight of 10 pink cubes progressively changing in volume. The classroom, a living organism, moves in harmony when the children can see, hear and feel along their pathway of learning. Maria Montessori designed all of the materials to encompass aspects of experiential learning: they are beautiful, sensorial and didactic in nature.

Dr. Montessori said, “It is exactly in the repetition of the exercises that the education of the senses exists; not that the child shall know colors, forms or qualities, but that he refine his senses through an exercise of attention, comparison and judgment.” The sandpaper letters and pink tower are classic examples of the myriad pedagogic materials that exist within the classroom to sharpen and hone this exact development of the senses to which Dr. Montessori refers. At Aster Montessori, we seek to further the refinement of the senses by cultivating a deep sense of artistic expression in our culture, design, daily works, partnerships and more.

In upholding the Wildflower principle “Attention to Beauty”, we study artists like Marc Chagall, Cy Twombly and Alexander Calder. We look to experiment with form and medium. We seek out unique partnerships to elevate our practice. Thus, when The Afield, a multidisciplinary collaboration between violinist Rebecca Fischer and my brother, visual artist Anthony Hawley, approached Aster for our Artists in Residence program, we knew it was going to be a perfect fit. The Afield combines new and original compositions for violin, voice and electronics with digital images and other media, intentionally creating a space that inspires, calls the child to compare and discern, while also offering experiences of stillness and beauty.

In the 2017-2018 school year, Aster Montessori School and The Afield joined forces. The artists have visited Aster several times over the course of the year to explore “Water Partitas,” an extraordinary series of short works for violin by composer Byron Au Yong. Written for Rebecca, the short pieces are partially scored, partially improvised works playfully embracing 54 ways that water appears and disappears within its basic states of liquid, solid and vapor (e.g., boiling, freezing, condensing, etc.). Using a unique method of scoring, Byron creates sheet music in the form of musical pictographs. Rebecca both plays violin and vocalizes sounds cued by the score. The Water Partitas Program consists of these works with accompanying images by artist Anthony Hawley. The Afield has presented this interactive program worldwide, in locations ranging from Brooklyn to Maine to Zimbabwe, sharing an environment for sight and sound with audiences of all ages.

“At a time when borders are being closed and sealed, the opening of the borders of the imagination is the key to building a better future,” explains duo (and married couple) Rebecca and Anthony. Enter The Afield School, the pair’s educational platform pioneering interdisciplinary arts experiences and performance. A school whose infrastructure and architecture “enact malleability and transferability,” which are core principles for enabling collaboration. Built on and around interdisciplinary art-making and education, The Afield aims to equip participants with new ways of interacting with the world and each other, in the process becoming more aware citizens. In 2017-18, The Afield’s program at Aster Montessori School will lay the building blocks for this school opening later in 2018.

Next time you walk by our windows in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you may see a child tracing those sandpaper edges while a violin plays in the corner. Or several children counting smooth golden beads while another explores watercolor painting with colored frozen seawater vs. colored frozen freshwater. Maybe you’ll hear children discussing how one might vocally represent seaweed moving with the tide; or observe a child conducting a live musical score with the staccato and legato movements of her paintbrush.

The true beauty in our partnership is that like all of the works on the shelf, the artists become a part of the environment: moving and breathing to the rhythm of the children’s interests and the environment’s needs. The Montessori philosophy invites a child to listen to his or her body, heart and mind that day, and then choose work. We are thrilled to explore, compare and refine our senses with this year’s artists, The Afield.

Angelina Hawley-Dolan is co-head of school at Aster Montessori, a Wildflower school in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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