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From Teachers to Children, Live!
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From Teachers to Children, Live! A Dialogue on Song Selection and Representation in Classroom Lessons

by Patricia Shehan Campbell

As part of the Education Section's ongoing Ethnomusicology in the Schools Project, three seasoned teachers, either culture bearers or long-term students of musical culture, offered song-based lessons to children in Toronto's High Park Montessori School during the SEM Toronto 2000 conference. These lessons were repeated as part of the Education Committee's Open Forum on Saturday, November 4, 2000. Ann Clements, Chooi-Theng Lew, and Sheila Feay-Shaw, all doctoral students in Music Education at the University of Washington, subsequently entered into a dialogue with session chair Patricia Shehan Campbell concerning selection and representation of music of the Maori, the Malay of Malaysia, and the Asanti of Ghana in lessons on musical cultures for children ages 8-11.

Ann Clements has been studying Maori choral music since 1995. During summer and winter breaks from graduate studies and teaching middle school music, she can be found either with Maori friends in New Zealand or hosting them in her Seattle home. She pursues studies in Maori language, sings with Maori choirs while in Auckland or outlying areas, and observes traditional practices of the Maori. Chooi-Theng Lew is a Malaysian citizen with teaching experience in Penang and Seattle. She was raised to know Chinese traditions, but was also influenced by the languages and customs of her Argentinean mother, her Indian house-helper, and the predominately Malay population of her country. The songs she teaches children are gathered from her own childhood and from the children whom she has taught. Sheila Feay-Shaw's ten years of teaching experience in Milwaukee and Seattle have been shaped by studies with Akan and Asanti musicians, chiefly drumming techniques. Her doctoral work is focusing on the instructional styles of visiting and expatriate Ghanaian musicians, and influences which are changing their traditional teaching processes.

A series of questions were posed to the three teachers in an effort to understand the thoughts behind the planning of demonstration lessons presented to children at the Toronto conference.

(1) What are the reasons for selecting the song you chose to present to the children from the High Park Centennial Montessori School?

Ann Clements: In all honesty, part of the reason why I chose this piece was because of the time constraints. It is imperative in Maori culture to teach the deeper meaning of songs, such as the applications of the value-laden text. I was worried that I would be unable to give a more complex song that needed additional time to present it in full context so I chose "Teo Reo Maori", The Maori Language Song.

Chooi-Theng Lew: This song represents the Malay culture through language, content, and the dance with which it is associated. "Lenggang Kangkung" is sung in the Malay language, the national language of Malaysia. It tells of the graceful swaying of watercress in the rice paddy fields with both watercress and rice featured prominently in the Malay diet. The dance movements present a visual image of this swaying motion. This song is widely used in Malaysian public schools because it represents the Malay culture-this is based on my own observations and discussions with Dr. Tan Sooi Beng, a Malaysian ethnomusicologists and the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

Sheila Feay-Shaw: In study with Koo Nimo, Asanti palm wine guitarist from Ghana for two years, we exchanged ideas about teaching children. He identified "San San a Koti" as a singing game that could be taught to children in Ghana. This song was of great interest to me because of the connection to Asanti heritage.

(2) How does the piece "represent the culture"?

AC: This piece is representative of today's Maori. The melody is an American rock tune from the 1960s with the words changed ten years later to allow the song to serve a new purpose: to teach language. I was taught this song by Ngapara Hopa, head of the Maori Studies Department at the University of Auckland, and Miki Roderick, a Professor of Maori Studies. They both noted that this song is widely used by children in New Zealand, both Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) for learning the vowels of the Maori language.

CTL: By way of language, content, and gestures of the dance, this song represents the Malay culture. The dance movements of the swaying of hands from side to side is quintessentially Malay; such gestures would not be found in songs and dances of the Chinese, Indian, or European populations of Malaysia.

SFS: The Asanti of Ghana have always been known as fierce warriors. This singing game (which translates as "I am scratching you and you are scratching me") was taught to children, but was also played in camps where Asanti warriors were waiting to go into battle. Since Koo Nimo grew up in the Asantehene's court, he was raised on many of the old stories, story songs, and singing games (like this one) of the Asanti tradition.

(3) Why is this song appropriate for use by non-natives in North American classrooms?

AC: I feel it is appropriate for us because it is considered "general knowledge" by the Maori and not a song owned and in the secret possession of a specific tribe. There are few Maori songs which fall into this category. It is also an important first step to learning other Maori songs, so that young singers can begin to master the vowel (and consonant) combinations of the Maori language through this song in order to sing other song texts with confidence.

CTL: This song is neither a religious song nor a tribal song and is thus appropriate for non-natives to learn, to sing, and to dance in the classroom. This song can be taught to non-natives using Western-based pedagogical methods. Both Dr. Tan Sooi Beng and I agree that the point of the song's use with non-natives is to "get the children singing and dancing".

SFS: The chant is easy to learn, as it is short and consists of only a few syllables, rhythmic durations, and tonal inflections. The song reinforces the steady beat required in the game that accompanies it. The social aspect of the game requires children to determine how much discomfort they are willing to tolerate and inflict on someone else (as they "pinch" each other on the fleshy part of the hand).

In teaching music to children, a broader palette of expressions has become the goal of a multicultural curriculum. Teachers are tapping into sources that include some of their own heritage, the heritages of culture-bearers, as well as recordings and videotapes, the web, and the scholarly works of ethnomusicologists.

One final question looms large, a question central to the mission of the Education Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology: How can ethnomusicologists help teachers teach children a musical culture? The answers come clear: Continue the fieldwork, with greater emphasis on children and youth within a culture; Publish the research in manuals for teachers, with recordings and videotapes; Work with teachers in seminars and workshops; Collaborate with teachers in teaching children and youth.

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