Over the last two months, my daughter has been humming in the backseat, dancing while she brushes her teeth and singing herself to sleep. Not necessarily unusual for an 8-year-old girl, except the songs aren’t what you’d expect, “Rockin Robin’,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” and most curious of all, “Don’t Stop Believin'.” When she belted out "streetlight people" with full dramatic effect—arms out, head slightly upturned—I knew it must be time again for the Mahala F. Atchison School spring concert.
Third graders at the school entertained and educated the audience of parents, family and friends on April 15 with their program Sing, America. The show was a musical journey through time, exploring how American music has developed throughout the country’s history.
Music teacher Kristen Briggs, who is covering for Nicole DePresca while out on maternity leave, said she was pleased by the performance her students turned in and added that she felt “quite privileged” to have been able to plan and select this year’s concert pieces and theme.
Briggs said the concert was an opportunity for the students to explore the music of the country—how it developed, where it came from and how the culture of the time was reflected in it—through subject matter, style and tempo. Besides teaching the songs to the students during her time with them each week, Briggs passed along lessons in the history of the country, including the Native American culture and the period of the Revolutionary War up to the modern age of the 20th century.
“This theme was selected because it gave me the opportunity to lead the students on a journey to discover that music is not a static art but is constantly changing, evolving and moving to reflect the changing culture of which it is a part,” said Briggs.
The intention of the concert was summed up well in an introduction the students’ offered. “As our country has developed, so has our art; especially our music,” they said. “The development of American music is closely related to the development of our American culture and society. And so we take pride in our nation, in our country and in its music because it is a reflection of who we are."
Because of the diversity of the songs and the timeline nature of the show, Briggs explained that it allowed her to expand the students’ understanding of varied musical concepts, such as partner singing, instrument playing, steady beat, accompaniment patterns and other components of musical expression. It also inspired the musical abilities of the students and allowed them the opportunity to show off their skills.
“I found many talented students in the third grade and many were asked to accompany the singers on piano and drums,” Briggs said. “Along with the dancers and the student orators, Sing, America created a full experience.”
Songs in the show included the “Star Spangled Banner,” “Party in the USA,” “Yankee Doodle's Pony,” “Oh, Shenandoah,” “It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing),” “Rockin' Robin,” “Dynamite” and even Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Briggs said that the seminal Journey song, not one you might typically think of as a chorus number for children, was picked to represent the music of the ‘80s. MFA students Aaron Fromm and Vaughn Batistta played the familiar keyboard introduction to the song.
“The students have related the song and its lyrics to the things that they have learned at MFA, that they should never stop believing in themselves and if they put their mind to it, they can accomplish anything,” Briggs said.
“The third graders, now only months away from completing their education at MFA, also have decided to dedicate their performance of “Don't Stop Believin'” to their teachers and the administration at the school as a thank you.”