Get In-Tune with your Elementary Music Concert Programs: Where Are You From?

Why this Book?:

I had sent out an e-mail to my staff asking for some of their favorite picture books and this one drew my attention. This was my first year in this school, district, and state and the concert I was planning was for my 5th graders. This particular group of 5th graders were, well... interesting. I had 3 classes with approximately 30 students per class. One class was incredibly invested in music class, wanted all the songs and games, and willing to try anything. My next class was almost the polar opposite - very passive in their music making and interest. The typical "too cool for school" vibe. My third class was a mixture of the other two. So, trying to pick something all three classes would buy into was a challenge. 

Did I mention that their concert was the first up for my grade levels in October? I felt like I barely had time to build a rapport with my students before concert prep needed to start! This story felt like a way of learning and building that rapport with my students and allowing for the music to guide and be our foundation.

What is the Story About?:

The story begins with a young girl, realizing that she is different from her peers. Many of her friends ask her about where she is from? However, she doesn't quite know. So she reaches out to her grandfather on how to answer that question. Grandpa (or Abuelo) gives a very descriptive answer to this question. He describes elements of nature, history, and time. Clearly, not the answer the girl is looking for. She asks one final time, where are we REALLY from? He answers by pointing to his heart and says there. 

How to Use this Story as a Program:

I began asking my students the same question: Where are you from? I had a wide variety of answers: Colorado, Mexico, Russia, United States, Central America, Asia, etc. I was amazed at all of the different cultures and backgrounds my students represented. 

After I collected my students responses, I began my research. I wanted to include authentic folk songs and games from as many regions as possible. I started with where I was comfortable, the United States. Then, spread out from there into Mexico and Central America. I traveled across the Atlantic to find songs from Africa, Europe, and Asia to add into our programs. I began including them in my lessons (even before we truly began program prep) to see how students responded. We learned the games that went with them, talked about the stories they told, and where in the world this music originated from. When students entered the class, I would have recordings of folk music from those regions playing so students could hear traditional sounds. We'd talk about how it compares with music we listen to at home and learn in class. 

Then, came time for how to program this with the book. As I mentioned, the book describes beautiful scenery. This is what I used as the skeleton of my program. I tried to match up scenic descriptions with regions of the world that were covered in my song selection. 

Because many of my students and families are Spanish speaking, I decided to present the narrations in both Spanish and English. This came after one fifth grader was so excited that we were presenting two songs in Spanish. She told me that her mom has come to everyone of her elementary concerts, but, because she speaks very little English, had no idea what was happening in the programs. My students who were bilingual were SO excited to be able to speak in Spanish and show off their strengths. 

The Program:

Again, this is what worked for my students and me. It was a great way to really build rapport with my students, begin to understand some of the different cultures they brought in, and for them to have buy in and ownership of the music and program. Did I cover every single culture and location in this program? No.  However, it did give me a place to start in my lessons...

El árbol de la montaña (Nicaragua)
Source: Canta Conmigo!
Sang through all the verses, acting out the song

Senua de dende (Ghana)
Source: How Can I Keep From Singing?
Sang in unison and in canon

Sleigh Song (Russia)
Source: How Can I Keep From Singing?
Added sleigh bells

Alcitrón (Mexico)
Source: Sail Away
Played the stone passing game ons tage

The Wind Blow East (Caribbean)
Source: First We Sing, Book 1
Used steel drums as an accompaniment

Shake dem Simmons Down (Southern US)
Source: 120 Singing Games
Performed the movements of the game on stage

Rocky Mountain (US)
Source: 150 American Folk Songs
Sang through all of the verses

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