Cuisenaire Choirs

Cuisenaire Choirs Nature or Nurture?

For those who did not experience the period when Cuisenaire Rods were the passion of Mathematics teaching, they are a set of small colored rectangular rods of varying sizes. They represent numbers in a decimal system. The largest, I recall with a fading memory, was orange,10 cms long and represents the tens, hundreds or ones and the remaining different colours can represent proportions according to colour and precisely measured size. The smallest was white and 1cm square.

For the one child, the most mathematical of my children, they were a consuming passion. But she did not use them as aids to her mathematical processes, in fact she was somewhat scathing about the need to reduce mathematical concepts to material representations, and still is to some extent. She used them instead to represent choirs. She arranged them in neat rows or semicircles, in descending order of size all facing the conductor, herself.

(It was no wonder that her poor father embarrassed us all at a parent teacher meeting once when they were being displayed by a proud teacher prior to an explanation of teaching methods. He exclaimed, “Oh are they the things all over the floor that I keep treading on?”)

She commandeered her ever willing younger sister into the game and this sister contributed her own personal set of embellishments. Between them and two old portable cassette tape recorders multiple voices were recorded, in fact as many voices as there were Cuisenaire rods, and that was many. The rods were very talented, they also sang in parts. It was quite unbelievable that such large choirs managed to make such significant music with the assistance of small children who possessed the only two sets vocal chords to be found among them all.  And the rods were so well behaved. They were silent except for the singing and they did not move unless they were stepped on by a careless father or they had to move to a different venue for a concert. Their repertoire was quite large.

My undergraduate education in Psychology had been undertaken in the 50s. It was a time of intense dispute about the roles of nature and nurture in the upbringing of children. A famous psychologist who supported the concept of nature as the primary influence was not permitted to speak at Sydney University. There were demonstrations about this. I did not attend as I did not know where I stood in this argument. I still do not know. As with most psychologists in this day and age I think both are important and overall the interaction is much more complex than we yet understand.

One can never draw any conclusions from a non-random sample of four. But one can get strange ideas that kick off untested theories just from observation of one’s growing children.

It was easy to see that they might have got the odd musical gene from their pianist maternal grandmother and/or their singer paternal grandfather, even though such genes must have skipped lightly over my generation. It was easy to see why the mathematical gene may have struck in only one case. There was only one mathematical grandparent. But what caused, in such different children, their choices of the same subjects at school, and in the case of three, the same tertiary education? Is there a nurture/nature that takes place between and within children. Children, with the same natures might enhance some common predisposition in one another. Others, who are very different (and these could also include step siblings, adopted children, and best friends) might widen the range of differences available to be nurtured by each other.

My four children eventually all chose different occupations.

The former chief conductor of the Cuisenaire Choir, after considerable mathematical and legal study, now works hard in her legal profession to ensure she helps those who face discrimination in the workplace because of differences in colour, size or even, perhaps, performance. She also helps those that have stepped out of line in the workplace or who have employed those who step out of line.

The former assistant conductor, after considerable study in singing, music and education, works in that most honourable profession, teaching. I have been delighted to see her sing in choirs, solo in the Opera House and in operas and musicals. But I have been most proud whenever I see her with a large group of enthralled girls and boys whom she is conducting in a children’s choir. I love her enthusiastic and encouraging expressions as she looks affectionately into their little faces………whoops! That won’t fit my thesis! Must be genetic!


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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