Juan Dies, Executive Director of Sones De Mexico presented an informance towards the end of our project, showing a Powerpoint presentation about the various cultural peoples of Mexico, and showing the students various folk instruments. He gave us some feedback regarding the students’ original melody. The students had consciously incorporated falsetto leaps and sighing motives, but their melody was complex rather than simple as many folk tunes tend to be, he pointed out with some helpful examples. I (Miss Lisa, teaching artist) reworked their song by repeating some melodic and textual fragments, and the following composition was the result; a hybrid of classical and folk influences. Watch the students sing their song, lyrics below, which were based on interviews the students completed with their parents with assigned questions from me regarding what they missed about their home countries.
Nostalgia, sentimientos! Recordamos las recuerdos de Mexico. . .
Sighing and sad, eyes watering, crying. Smiling and drinking, remembering, feeling (x2)
Our parents went to discover nature, they sat in the shade . . .
They listened to the birds, they played in el campo, and when the night fell,
They heard los grillos sing!
(Extranamos Mexico, extranamos Mexico)
We ate el mole picoso at Abuelita’s house. . .the foods here do not taste the same!
Las abuelitas hacen las tortas mejores de las picositas!
(Dia de los Muertos, fruit on las Posadas)
Teaching Artist Reflection: The fifth graders really enjoyed doing the interviews with their parents and exploring the concept of nostalgia. I think this activity helped them to make a personal connection to migration and to be willing, despite some language deficits, to attempt to express nostalgia for Mexico in song lyrics. They also enjoyed listening to music and analyzing the instrumentation and listing the elements, and learning about the music and instruments particular to their culture, which included sones and mariachi songs. They liked making the masks and some wrote good explanations of how their spirit animals represented them and Esperanza.
MCLT Reflection: This was the 2nd year for these students in the project. I think they really enjoyed working with Ms. Lisa again. But, I think the most effective part of the project this year was the connection they made with their parents. I was surprised at the number of students who had never been to Mexico and had never sat down to talk with their parents about leaving their countries. We listened to music from Mexico (because "Esperanza Rising" was written about Mexico) -- Sons and Mariachi music. The students enjoyed listening and singing the songs but also making the connection with the story and the songs. A highlight was our visit from Juan Dies -- Sones de Mexico Ensemble. The students loved seeing and hearing him play his instruments. The masks they made also required the students to think about their own character traits that would be reflected in an animal. They loved making their masks!
Teacher Reflection: What really worked well this year was involving everything we did in the classroom with this multidisciplinary project. All of our texts, reading strategies and writing led us back to reflecting on Esperanza's migration journey and thinking about what is so hard about migration.
What did not work?
Teaching Artist Reflection: The book was very difficult for them to read, and so we introduced the idea of the interviews with parents as a way for them to generate relevant and substantive thematic material in time to complete a song since they could not complete reading the book by the needed deadline. So, something that didn't work -- basing their song lyrics, which was the final project, along with a melody, on the book Esperanza Rising--still was helpful as a thematic concentration point, helped them to make numerous connections, and led to an interesting direction for the project. Although we analyzed folk songs before attempting to write our own, they weren't quite ready to consciously emulate any elements other than the sigh and the falsetto of Rogaciano. Repetition of thematic material or simple stepwise motion of melody would have been more folk-like as our visiting artist, Juan Dies of Sones de Mexico, pointed out. But this class still accomplished quite a bit.
MCLT Reflection: The most difficult part of this project was the book (they read the text in Spanish). The book was very difficult for them to get through with Ms. Donoghue. Ms. Lisa and I had to always hold ourselves back so that we did not reveal the plot of the story. Waiting for the children to get through the story caused us to change the focus of the project to "Nostalgia". Also, in writing the melody for their song we asked the students to give us pitch numbers, but we really should have consulted with Juan Dies before we wrote the melody so that we could have guided the students to produce a melody that was more authentic to the sons sound and style.
Teacher Reflection: As both of the other teachers mentioned, the text was difficult for my students and so we read most of it as a read aloud, which made finishing the book in a timely manner a real challenge. On the positive side, my students really understand now the journey and challenges that the main character Esperanza went through.
What questions do you still have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: I wonder how many iterations of folk songs it would have taken for the kids to internalize and understand folk song general characteristics, similarly to 12-bar blues format, which is recognizeable, and then how they would have explained it.
MCLT Reflection: I wonder if the students really know the different musical styles of Mexican music. They know Mariachi music and the instruments but I don't know if they know the importance of the sons of Mexico (folksongs).
Teacher Reflection: I wonder if my students will take the empathy that they have shown towards the character Esperanza and globalize it towards all people who are suffering or in transition.
What new ideas do you have?
Teaching Artist Reflection: Exploring the above.
MCLT Reflection: Select an easier text for the students to reflect with "Nostalgia" or remembering as the Big Idea. The importance of their parents views opinions and thoughts is an effective learning tool for the students.
Teacher Reflection: I still would like students to read Esperanza Renace since it really challenges them to understand a 5th grade text, but I would start it much earlier in the process! Additionally, I really like the idea of having a unit notebook that students use to reflect on all aspects of the thematic unit, no matter what the discipline.