In the Civic Center in Koror, a group of young students, ages six to twelve, gather on Monday afternoon, and together tell a story not through words, but through movement and sound.
The Belau National Museum (BNM) recently launched two song and dance programs, including an afterschool program, Creative Music and Dance, which targets students between six and twelve years old, and takes place at the Civic Center on Mondays from 3pm to 4:30pm, sponsored by the Bureau of Youth, Applied Arts and Career. It also runs private singing lessons, which cater to adults and children of all ages and take place on Wednesdays from 2pm to 6pm, and on Thursdays from 3pm to 5pm, in a studio on the top floor of the BNM’s library.
Ms. Benina Berger, who developed and teaches both programs, has taught in her home-country of Germany, as well as in Cambodia and Vietnam. While she has taught a wide variety of ages and subjects including dance workshops and art, she said in Vietnam she was mainly teaching English, but used music in many of her classes. Music, she said, helped her students learn how to speak English quickly, by practicing skills such as listening and memorization.
The programs she teaches now, which she referred to as the Museum’s “modern department” of music and art culture, are designed to develop many of the same skills, said Ms. Berger. The Creative Singing and Dance afterschool program, especially, focuses on building kids’ interactive skills, and is meant to “challenge and develop their creativity”.
“Creative dance requires teamwork and social awareness, as well as creating on your own, and making music with others,” said Ms. Berger. “You have to be very sensitive and very aware of everyone, and know when your count is, what is the rhythm, what is the melody. It’s very holistic.”
The program involves three-month projects, in which students, in a team, compile a themed, choreographed song and dance. Ms. Berger said that the routines focus on topics such as “the jungle”, a topic which, through a series of activities and choreographed movements, students express together through sound, music, and dance.
One of the activities which Ms. Berger described was constructing rainsticks, tube-like instruments made of bamboo and filled with small pebbles or other objects which simulate the sound of rain. While the museum supplied the bamboo, the students decided for themselves how they would fill their rainsticks, with some using rocks and others using rice, lentils, or sand, all of which make a slightly different sound.
“It’s a game, and we do a lot of improvisation, balance, reaction and action,” said Ms. Berger. “There’s a set frame, but students also have time to be free and make their own creative choices.”
After the completion of each three-month project, students perform in front of their parents and other community members.
The other program is generally made up of one-on-one singing lessons, although Ms. Berger says that some younger students prefer to come in groups, where they can practice children’s songs together.
Before developing BNM’s new program, Ms. Berger worked as a music teacher at Emmaus-Bethania High School, but afterwards wanted to teach at a wider range. The singing lessons she teaches at BNM now, which cater to both adults and children, cover everything from learning to read music to singing from the diaphragm rather than the throat.
“The voice is such as private instrument, and it’s really about gaining confidence with it,” she said. The classes begin with warmups, and move on to basic vocal techniques, and then to skills such as range and style. “We learn how to breathe, which muscles to use, educating your ear, and of course gaining self-confidence. We also practice speaking from the diaphragm, something important for teachers because it helps your voice to project and puts less stress on your throat.”
Ms. Berger said that, in her experience, students on the island are very talented in music, especially when it comes to harmonies. The classes at BNM, she said, seek to build on that by teaching them more about the basics of song such as reading music.
“And of course, growing in confidence is something important for both children and adults,” said Ms. Berger. “I see a lot of kids who come here are very shy at first, but then they gain confidence at voicing out and sharing their ideas.”
Ms. Berger said that she encourages anyone interested in joining either class to call BNM to learn more about them.

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