Winter Sing 2014: American Roots Music

December 18, 2014

Walden School 6th Grade students Oscar and Jackson opened Walden’s annual Winter Sing Concert with this explanation about the American Roots Music theme:

“America is made up of people from all over the world, that happened to find themselves together on the same continent. Some people came because they chose to, some came because they didn’t, and some were here already, so whose roots are we talking about at exactly? We are looking at all of those people’s roots tonight. We are looking at songs that are like stories, songs that have lasted generations, songs that have ideas that are still important today.”

The important thing to keep in mind is American roots music tells the story of ordinary men and women, who were and often still are defined and limited by cultural constructions of race, class and gender. Just as music reflects how Americans have struggled against oppressive social and economic conditions, music is also a way of celebrating and giving dignity to identity.

Performing songs that are probably more than a century old, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders researched the history of each song and took turns telling the stories of the songs to the assembled crowds at both performances. Fifth grader Caden said, “What I like best about all these songs are the stories … because they have been passed by word of mouth, the origins of them are often unknown, but we will do our best to provide some of their history here tonight.”

Classmate Lotte played her century-old banjo at the concert. Inherited from her mother’s friend, Lotte has been playing ukulele and banjo since she was five years old. “We had the banjo spiffed up and replaced the strings, but otherwise it is fine,” said the fifth grader. “I like playing my antique banjo on special occasions,” she continued.

Fourth grade bass drone musician Oskar confided that this was his first year performing in the Winter Sing. “Sometimes, I lose my place, but by listening to the other band members, I am able to get back on track,” he said. “My favorite song was probably ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ by the sixth graders.”

Other songs included:

Good Night Irene

Follow the Drinking Gourd

The Entertainer

House of the Rising Sun

Erie Canal

Wayfaring Stranger

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,

Pay Me My Money Down

(For a copy of the narration that accompanied the performance, please click here.)

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