These students are new to PDP, but have already shown a great enthusiasm for our project! They are reading the novel Esperanza Rising, and will explore the idea of empowerment as they follow Esperanza’s riches-to-rags-to personal power story. We’ll also examine how character traits impact our approach to and resolution of conflicts, both in the novel and in our own lives. One of the themes in the novel is fighting injustice. We began their unit by showing them a clip of the musical “Matilda”, specifically, the number “Revolting Children”! The kids were amused by their feisty British counterparts and came up with some very insightful responses when asked “What is Power?” We’ll be writing essays and songs to stage exploring this and other themes in the novel. We are also analyzing the instrumentation in the music with a “close listen” and attempting to quantify how we make music that sounds powerful.
Students create their blocking for “The Heartbeat of the Earth” scene, below; puppet making, above.
The students have now read several chapters of Esperanza Rising. To start preparing them to compose music for and perform scenes from the book, as well as to reinforce work that Ms. Isaac is doing with visualizing settings, I led an acting exercise. Students first listed seven scenes from the book — one for each row of 3-4 children. We then numbered these and passed them out. Each table had five minutes to prepare a silent charade of the scene to be acted out in front of the class. The kids were very inventive and were eager actors, too! We next performed these scenes for Mr. Weible, the music teacher, and then gave the kids instruments to accompany themselves in these scenes during our next class. The students have listened to several programmatic classical works with us to study “Stories Without Words” and identified which instrumental “characters” are doing what to tell the story, I hope that they will grasp the connection between high energy accompaniment and high stakes scenes vs. calm scenes and the dynamics, tempos, and timbres that might logically accompany them. Once the kids have read more of the book, we will be able to compose lyrics regarding Esperanza’s character traits.
Tio Luis threatens Ramona after she rejects his proposal of marriage.
Esperanza and her Papa listen to the “heartbeat of the earth”.
"Esperanza is so caring, Esperanza plums was peeling.
The babies were crying, the floor she was sweeping, but in the end,
everyone was sleeping!" The students wrote lyrics about the novel's major characters. Each lyric had to capture character traits about the chosen character and use examples from the book to give evidence for the character trait chosen.
"Tio Luis was mean and frowned, he was trying to push them around. He stole the family's crown, and he's a clown, He burned their mansion down to the ground."
Jacob had an IEP and I had no idea; he proved to be a very good actor. In the video
below, he discusses how proud he is of his new-found ability. It is exciting when multiple modality arts programs such as ours uncover talents for children that may be feeling inadequate in traditional subjects.
"Abuelita was strong, Abuelita was wise. She saw fear in Esperanza's eyes. She told Tio Luis lifesaving lies. She gave her granddaughter Esperanza a surprise."
Having created lyrics that clearly demonstrated their understanding of the various characters in Esperanza Rising and their personalities, the students were ready to compose as a class! We composed the melody for the chorus of their song as a class using numbers for scale degrees and playing the kids’ choices back to them. Mr. Weible, the CPS music teacher, gave the students sets of handbells so that they could compose the verse melodies in small teams. Students then voted for the melody they liked best, and that melody was applied to their song, which includes verses describing Esperanza, Miguel, Papa, Ramona, Abuelita, and Tio Luis.
Mr. Weible and Miss Lisa compose with the students.
“Here are all the characters in Esperanza Rising! It is going to be surprising! There will be no disguising, but there will be some summarizing!”
Coby and Thalia had differing opinions about whether our song should be written in major or minor, to sound happy or sad, based on the tone of Esperanza Rising. Listen to them explain how the song turned out and why, here:
How Kobe said he felt after singing the class composition, above.
Children composed melodies using handbells in groups. Miss Lisa improvised a textual rhythm and a harmony for the final two contestants. Students voted for the major setting.
Listen to the class sing the song a few weeks into the rehearsal process here: