THE MUSICAL APPRENTICESHIP OF PEACE ORATORIO IN A CLASSROOM
WELCOME: When a Peace Oratorio instructor arrives with their guitar at a school, a music teacher or another teacher will introduce him/her to the students. There should be about twenty children and a minimum of two adults (teachers or community members) who will learn the songs with the children and accompany them to the dress rehearsal and the show in a theater. There should be at least one teacher present at all times during the class.
WARM UP: To start things off, there is a warm up with stretching and breathing while the PO instructor explains to the students that the singer’s instrument, unlike other musicians, is his/her body. Afterwards, if there is a piano, the PO instructor will have the students sing some simple exercises to establish the concept of singing in tune. (If there is no piano, the PO instructor plays the exercises on his/her guitar.) If there are not too many children, then he/she can listen to their individual voices. The participants are always interested in singing and listening to each other, but if there is a child that is too shy to try, the instructor doesn’t force, he/she simply moves on to the next student.
LEARNING THE SONGS: After the warm up and exercises, they start right away with Brother, Brother from Peace Oratorio. The PO instructor starts off by getting everyone to move their feet from right to left while keeping the rhythm, then to put their hands together and clap the High Life rhythm that is the linchpin of this song as well as some others. Once the “beat” is established, the teacher then gets everyone to go “Shoo” on the downbeat of each measure. It’s fun and playful, but especially efficient in instilling the rhythmic fundamentals and the physical and vocal coordination that this music necessitates.
REHEARSAL: The PO instructor then takes out his guitar and they learn the song from the beginning. It’s from this moment on that the children get the idea of the song’s structure: the first verse, the chorus, the second verse, another chorus, and then… the bridge! What is a bridge? James Brown sang Take it to the Bridge! right? Well, in Brother, Brother it’s where they put their hands in the air and sway from right to left singing “Ooh, Ooh, Ah, Ooh, Ooh, Ah… Find a way, Hey, Hey, Hey!” It is perhaps a cliché to see an audience do this in a concert, but when a room full of children do it, it’s magic! After, it’s onto the 3rd verse, and then a stop time to sing No Gun, No Fight, No War, No Poverty before a double chorus and the coda.
REST BREAK: It’s at this moment that the PO instructor can call a rest break for the students who drink some water then sit down and listen to the guitar instrumental Elegy. He/she will ask children what they hear in the music, and according to the responses the PO instructor can talk to the children briefly about the musical structure of Elegy (melody, harmony, rhythm) and most importantly the key tenets of Martin Luther King and Gandhi's philosophy: peaceful coexistence and nonviolence. It’s all in the songs! Practicing prepares the minds of the children to listen to an elder talk about the Civil Rights movement when they all get together for a dress rehearsal the week before the big show.
RECAP: We get back on our feet with Brother, Brother adding the intro of No Gun, No Fight, No War, No Poverty that segues into the Beethoven theme of Ode to Joy! When they get to the coda, the instructor works with the children on their physical coordination, moving their feet, clapping their hands and using their voices to sing Shoo while the guitar solo gets into motion. When the children are in the theater performing from their seats in the public, they will be totally submerged in the music physically yet at the same time their ears and minds will capture the musical phrases of the musicians' improvisations. Children have huge musical capacities, and this concert, which they actively prepare for weeks and months in advance represents an inspiring moment for them! The musicians on stage are very inspired playing in front of this young audience because, having mastered the essential elements of the songs, the kids are not only enthusiastic, they are active participants.
They can start the song Happy Feet in the same way as Brother, Brother in a later session and finish with the more challenging Big City of Peace. The PO Instructor will leave a CD or MP3s of the 3 songs that the children can practice with at home or at school during recess. And of course, teachers can access the MP3s, lyrics and scores of the songs by signing up for full membership at www.peaceoratorio.org.
Normally, 3 sessions of 90 minutes are necessary to put together the three songs well. With this amount of time, the PO instructor can get to know the kids better, and they can understand the music, and be a part of the vision of building the Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther Jr. This is the mission of Peace Oratorio in a Classroom.