Sounds of the 4 layers of rainforestJust wrapped up a weeklong artist residency for Young Audiences at Lincoln Elementary School in Melrose, Mass., titled “Sounds of the Rainforest.” It was a great week, though these kids were so knowledgeable about the rainforest that at times it felt like they were teaching me!

For example, did you know that howler monkeys are the loudest animals on the planet aside from blue whales? Or that only 2% of the sunlight that shines on the rainforest makes it all the way down to the forest floor?

To learn more, and to get ideas for an interdisciplinary, arts-integrated rainforest unit of your own, take a look below at the detailed program notes that we put together for our final assembly “informance.”

Arts-Integrated Music Education

Working with Young Audiences residency artist and ThisWorldMusic Founder Jeremy Cohen, 2nd and 3rd grade students (five classes total) created original pieces of music reflecting the sounds of the rainforest. In an interdisciplinary, arts-integrated experience bringing together social studies, science and music, students explored the rainforest in depth, understanding its importance as an ecosystem. Students were guided through their exploration of the rainforest in the following manner:

  1. introduction to all four layers of the rainforest (scroll down to see picture);
  2. explore in-depth one layer of the rainforest (emergent layer, canopy, understory, forest floor) discovering what each sounds like and which species live there;
  3. create an original “sound scene” which represents that layer;
  4. rehearse and perform a suite of sound scenes with all participating classes to demonstrate their knowledge and share their creativity.

Today’s “informance” marks the first time students are hearing the music in its entirety, as all five classes have created and rehearsed separately to this point.


Sounds of the Rainforest Program

Layer 1: Forest Floor
Sounds: baby tree frogs (guiros), snakes (maracas), jaguars (hand drums)

Yes, human beings are one of the species commonly found on the forest floor. And one of the signature sounds of our species is music.

Layer 2: Understory
Sounds: baby red-eyed tree frogs (small guiros), snakes (maracas), jaguars (drums)

The rainforest isn’t always the nicest place. Sneaky jaguars pounce on unsuspecting baby tree frogs as snakes hiss with approval. That last frog sure sounds nervous!

Layer 3 (Part I): Canopy
Sounds: toucan and macaw (African bells), adult red-eyed tree frogs (hand drums with finger tips, large guiros), butterflies (triangles)

Can a red-eyed tree frog croak and hop at the same time? These students don’t think so. Listen to the alternation of croaking and hopping as birds and butterflies carry-on above.

Layer 3 (Part II): Canopy
Sounds: crickets (small woodblocks), woodpeckers (large woodblocks), howler monkeys (hand drums), snakes (African gourd rattle)

Did you know that 90% of all rainforest species live in the canopy layer? To be able to represent this layer well, we needed the help of not one, but two classes.

Layer 4: Emergent
Sounds: eagle wings (big hand drums), eagle crying (triangle), rainstorm (small hand drums)

The emergent layer is the highest in the rainforest. As a result, it absorbs the most wind, rain and sunshine and is home to high-flying eagles. But these eagles don’t like flying in the rain, preferring to wait out the storm before taking to the air once more.

This residency was made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. All music and sound scenes composed by the students of Lincoln Elementary.

layers of the rainforest