When students walk into the music room at Britain Elementary School they are welcomed into a world where they not only hear music, but they see and feel it too. The walls are splashed with vibrant posters about music vocabulary, the cubbies at the back are full of instruments big and small, and at the front of the class sits a large stage.
This stage, handmade by music teacher Laura Walsh from an old bed frame and plywood, is not just a platform for performance. This stage is how students experience what music feels like through pulsing vibrations.
Within the stage sits a 140-watt subwoofer that comes to life when Walsh plays a song. At first, the students may only feel slight vibrations. But as the melody picks up and more instruments begin to play, the entire stage and the floor around it start buzzing to the beat.
“What I have loved most about the stage is it makes the music tangible for all my kids,” says Walsh. “My hearing students can hear the music. Their ears pick up the sound-vibrations. My deaf students can now pick up the same vibrations with their sense of touch.”
Walsh was inspired to create the stage specifically for her deaf education students after seeing how excited they got when they felt vibration caused by the sounds they were making using “whirly birds,” long tubes that make whirring sounds when spun.
An idea popped into Walsh’s head immediately. She began sketching plans for the stage and soon went to work building the custom stage around the powerful speakers in her classroom. She introduced the stage to her students at the beginning of the new school year, not telling them what it was but showing them.
“Some kids immediately understood what they were feeling and started jamming out to the music. Some kids took a moment or two,” says Walsh. “I think some hadn’t experienced music this way before and it took longer. But by the end of the first song everyone was bopping to the beat.”
Now, the stage is part of Walsh’s daily lessons. When she leads the class in songs or plays videos about music around the world, students climb onto the stage and press their hands, feet and even their face to the plywood to feel the vibration of the music on their body.
This small stage and the huge impact it has made on the students at Britain has inspired Walsh to continuously find new ways for all students to experience music.
“Teaching my deaf students has truly inspired me and my career direction. I am currently taking college ASL classes and working to gain fluency. I’m learning not only the language but also deaf culture,” says Walsh. “My new knowledge is continuously inspiring me to create informed lessons which truly invite all my students to engage fully.”