An American Musical Salute
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Red, White, and Blue. Purple Mountains Majesty. No matter how you color it, I love America. I love the land, I love the people, and I love the music.What better way for a music teacher to teach a love of country than through the music. Our music is as wonderful and unique as the history of our country. November is election season and with Veteran's Day around the corner it's a great time to teach my students about patriotism and civic responsibility. So no matter where you live, from Sea to Shining Sea, let's raise a glass to Freedom!
Literature/Programming - There are a few different directions you can go when programming American music;
1) A concert of strictly patriotic songs is perfect for Veteran's or Memorial Day celebrations. I really love the Hal Leonard "Patriotic Favorites" by Michael Sweeney collection, the whole class can learn the melodies before we put together the band arrangements. Or you can focus on one aspect of America.
2) Explore music composed by Americans. Perform Native American music with a flute and percussion ensemble or utilize your concert and jazz band to feature Blues, Jazz, or Cajun music Focus on American composers of contrasting genres, George Gershwin, Scott Joplin, Aaron Copland or Florence Price for example. Or even commission a piece by a living American composer; we premiered "Victory" by M.L. Daniels, who came and worked with our students.
3) Invite with a military ensemble to perform for or with you. We were privileged to have the Navy Jazz Band perform with us, and sit in on our jazz rehearsal.
4) Pick specific regions of the United States, North, South, East, West, and promote a "From sea to shining sea" experience with recognizable songs from coast to coast. "New York, New York", "Tennessee Waltz", "Georgia", "Deep in the Heart of Texas", "California Dreaming" are a few of my favorites.
1) We hold a program on Veteran's Day that involves our entire district. Students from each elementary campus perform, our 1st Graders use sign language for "God Bless America". We've done this for years, it's really special to see all the MS/HS students sign along with them, because they did it when they were 1st graders. Our Choirs sing and the MS Band plays a Patriotic Medley. Our HS performs the Armed Forces Salute and we ask each military branch to stand and be recognized. Our color guard does a rifle/flag routine to "You're a Grand Old Flag". Same music/routines every year, but it's a become a much anticipated tradition. We send invitations to our local retirement homes and Veteran's groups and feature a guest speaker from the military.
2) If you have a band alumni or community member who has played in a military band, have them come and talk about their experience, live or zoom.
3) Honor the men and women in your community that have served with a special holiday musical. We combined with our choir and theatre department, we used an original script about a young man leaving to serve in WWII on Christmas Eve. The jazz band performed music from the 1940's and we ended with a slide show salute with pictures of community, staff, alumni, and family members who were serving or had served. We asked for entries throughout the Fall and the show was widely attended by people who would not normally come to watch a concert. Background music (and title of the show) was "All I want for Christmas is You"...there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Historical/Cultural Significance - It's important for musicians to know the backgrounds of the songs that they play. I give them a lyric sheet and we discuss them. It also helps the band play so much more musically and stylistically correct if they have more information. I say "If you care deeply about something you must express this clearly...therefore if you love your country you will play with correct articulation. If you feel strongly you need to accent, etc." This is obviously an ongoing conversation as we prepare for the performance. (See SEL)
Social/Emotional Learning - The United States as a nation has had a relatively short but significant history. We have accomplished great things and made mistakes along the way. I see wrong notes, style etc. it as an opportunity for discussion. Wrong notes are OK, as long as we don't repeat the mistake. Unusual chords can be absolutely beautiful, it's OK to have dissonance. Our strength as a country comes from both our differences and our similarities. I also tell them if they make a mistake, acknowledge it so we can fix it. Have your students write about what they love about their country. Or write about what they think needs fixing, with possible solutions. Discuss why it's OK to like and not like about things, including appropriate ways to express your thoughts...it's called Democracy. Talk about what it means to be a citizen (we stress voting in our district and I always make sure to show them my "I voted" sticker). We have a particular passage in one of our pieces that is full of accidentals. We worked on it today and discussed how deviating from the key signature can sound really cool. Music can express so many thoughts, take advantage of every detail.
Student Projects/Virtual Presentation -
1) Create a video with entries from every department/grade level in your district. Pictures drawn by elementary students, interviews with former students who are serving in the military, thank you messages from students/staff to the military. Include a special salute to members of your community, staff, and alumni who are serving or have served. Research the backgrounds of the Armed Forces Hymns.
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