Jan 16, 2015: Music

In connection with the fourth grade Migration unit, and in collaboration with Library, music students in fourth grade have started to become familiar with the book, "To Be a Drum," by Evelyn Coleman, with art by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson.

I discovered this book through Sue Mueller at an Orff-Schulwerk professional development workshop a couple years ago, (thanks to Run for the Arts) and was inspired to bring this story back to school for our children to explore.

It is the story told by a father to his children about the forced migration of Africans into slavery. Evelyn Coleman's story introduces us to a time "before hours and minutes and seconds on the continent of Africa, when the rhythm of the Earth beat for the first people."  "The spirit rose on the wind and flew into our bodies.  And our own hearts beat for the first time."  "The beat pushed out from our fingers and our drum was born."

To provide some musical context for this story we have been singing a few songs from Ghana.  I can't stress enough how Run for the Arts is impacting our children's global awareness.  When I was in Nashville for the AOSA conference I participated in two sessions with J.S. Kofi Gbolonyo.  One session was exclusively Ghanaian children's games.  Kofi explained that in Ghana five year-olds start playing them with older kids up to teenagers.  Here's one example of a game song we are learning in class, "Moma Kofi Oseei." Fourth graders remarked that children's games from Ghana are complicated.  "And Musical!"

You'll hear a name game in the middle.  This is a name game that we have actually been playing together here at TIS since kindergarten.  I learned it from someone, who learned it from someone else.  Turns out we've been playing a Ghanaian game all along.  The song means "Lets all give Praise to ___."  When someone makes a mistake, we praise them for being part of the group and doing their best. 


Through heartless, cruel, and unimaginable hardship, the Earth's heartbeat never stops beating.  "The Earth's spirit moved through us still and pushed not only out our fingers, but out our entire bodies."
Here is a rhythmic speech piece that was written partially by the students in response to reading the story:
To Be a Drum, 
to work together, 
play together, 
Overcome - 
To Be a Drum, 
to work together, 
play together, 
Please view this telling of the story by James Earl Jones.  I find his telling particularly moving because he explains at the beginning that as a child he didn't speak.  He actually refused to speak because of a severe stutter.

Our project in the classroom uses the story "To Be a Drum" as inspiration for creative responses through music and creative movement.  Students are doing library research to prepare for a number of tasks related to the story. 
1. Fought in Wars - "made our courage drums."  Find out about African Americans' role in fighting wars. 
2. Inventions - "made our minds drums" - What inventions were invented by African Americans?  Create an "invention" through creative movement and instrument props that moves through space and makes sound.
3. Civil Rights - "made our communities drums" - Find excerpts from speeches or songs from the Civil Right movement that we can compose a layered speech piece with.
4. The Arts- Dance, Drama, Music, Art - Create a movement piece that is inspired by African American artists.

Please ask your child about this story.  Feel free to share any insights and discoveries your child has made through this inquiry and creative process.
- Peter Musselman