In response to my article “Ask Me Anything” last week, my friend Heidi made this request: “I have to come up with a ‘talent’ for an upcoming family reunion. I want to involve everyone, including kids. One idea I thought of was to do some echoing chants. I will include actions with them. Any creative ideas?”
I’ve got four ideas to suggest.
When I taught elementary general music, I was always on the lookout for musicians to perform at our school. A wonderful jazz group visited us every April just before the Chandler Jazz Festival. One year, as the students came into the cafeteria for the performance, they were a bit noisy. When they’d all arrived and it was time to introduce the jazz ensemble, I stepped to the front of the room and clapped a four-beat pattern. A group of nearby children clapped it after me. I clapped another pattern; half the room repeated it. By the time I clapped the third pattern, every child echoed it back. I clapped a few more patterns, and then introduced musicians. One told me, “That was amazing.” He didn’t think the room would be under control so quickly. But it’s a trick most teachers in my district knew (or at least, all the Orff-trained music teachers knew). We used it not only for getting the students’ attention, but also for ear training (giving kids an “ear” for rhythm).
Heidi plays in the handbell choir at church, so she knows how to read music notation. Click this link for some simple rhythms that you can use for this activity.
Not an echo, but another way to use hands (and feet) to produce interesting effects. Unfortunately, this works best indoors, and family reunions tend to be outdoor events. I participated in this activity in a large church sanctuary, where you could follow the storm’s progress around the room. It gave me chills.
Click this link for written directions for directing the thunderstorm. It would be good to have the group practice each maneuver before putting it all together. As the sound changes, the leader should walk back and forth, staggering the changes (not everyone should change at the same time; the change should inch its way through the crowd); instruct the participants not to change to the next sound until you physically come to them. For the thunder, you can stomp your feet or you can hop. Try it both ways and see what has the greater impact at your location (you almost have to have risers to do the hopping thing). Also, increase the intensity of each sound gradually–start slow and soft, increasing the speed and the volume little by little; after the climax, decrease the speed and volume little by little.
Going on a bear hunt.
Okay, this is an actual echo chant based on a book by Michael Rosen. Here he is reciting his story his way:
For more than a quarter of a century, teachers have been doing this story as an echo chant—the teacher says a line with hand motions, and the children repeat it. (Adults can join in too!) You don’t have to make all the noises Rosen does; you can use your own motions instead of his. This will take some memorization and practice (don’t worry, there’s lots of repetition). Click this link for a script for the bear hunt.
This idea that will take a lot of preparation, but it has the potential of being a big hit, and very meaningful as well. What are the highlights of your family’s story? What should everyone know and/or remember about the illustrious ancestors and relatives? Depending on the size of your family, you might not be able to include the entire family tree, but who are the larger-than-life characters? It’s okay to do some good-natured ribbing of everyone’s favorite uncle.
Write down as many interesting facts as you want to include. Try to put words together in an easy-to-repeat cadence. Extra points if you can make it rhyme! Practice reading it aloud many times so that you can say it smoothly on the big day. Perform it as an echo chant: the leader says a line, then the group repeats it.
Maybe your family’s history goes something like this:
In the year 1910 Great-great-grandfather Otto Left his home in the German Alps Boarded a ship in the port of Hamburg And sailed off to America. He disembarked on Ellis Island And saluted the Statue of Liberty. He found a job in New York City Making ladies’ hats for Lord & Taylor’s. He met a Fräulein named Mathilde Who soon became his Frau. They had three sons—Hans, Franz, und Rudoph. Hans became a doctor. Franz went to jail for bank robbery. And Rudolph made hats for Lord & Taylor’s . . .
and you get the idea. You could even print out copies for each family unit. And in future years, you can update it with more details and with current events, like what college each student attends, who won an award that year, who had a baby, who got a promotion at work.
I hope that one or more of these ideas will work for Heidi, or maybe they’ll spark an original idea of her own.
Now it’s your turn: Do you know any echo chants? Or do you have some ideas for creating one? Or can you think of a suitable activity that would be fun for an inter-generational gathering to do together? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo of family reunion by Tyler Nix via Unsplash.
(Fake) family history by ARHuelsenbeck.
The Netherlands (Holland) is known for windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, Rembrandt, and Delft tiles and porcelain. The Dutch also have a long history of folk dancing.
Baonopstekker is a dance we do at Phoenix International Folk Dancers, though we end the sequence a little differently. Instead of dropping hands and turning in place, we keep holding hands in the large circle and do eight quick sidesteps in line of direction before starting the sequence over again. We call it the pancake dance, because of the flattening of the circle that occurs during bars 9-12. But the lyrics of the song have to do with the bean harvest.
De Horlepiep is the Dutch version of the Sailors’ Hornpipe:
Gort Met Stroop means “grits with syrup.” Very cute dance:
Mazurka voor een Mus means “mazurka for a sparrow.” Kudos on the film editing:
Ronde has courtly 16th century styling:
Te Haerlem in den Houte means “in the woods of Haerlem.” The music is from the 17th century:
Zigeunerpolka means “gypsy polka.” The music is very familiar to me. My German parents may have had this on vinyl (or even shellac). It may have originated in northern Germany, but was also danced in the Netherlands.
Bellendans (bells dance) is done to the tune of Jingle Bells. I wish I’d known this dance when I was teaching music in the elementary school. This would have been a good activity for the last day before Winter Break.
Lots of articles for writers this week. And for non-writers as well.
When I started ARHtistic License, I had one goal: to encourage and inspire people to create. I hoped to do that by giving you permission to experiment with your art, providing practical advice, and connecting artists in all genres.
I still think that’s a great goal, but I worry that I’m not doing that as effectively as I hope. So I invite you to ask me anything at all about the arts or the creative process. If I don’t know the answer, I’m willing to do some research. I want to provide content that you will find interesting and engaging, so I’m asking for your input. What would you specifically like to see more of? What media and genres are you most interested in?
Would you like to learn more about Victorian architecture, or yurts? Would you like to take better vacation pictures, or selfies? Would you like to paint rocks, or portraits?
Would you like to learn how to make kites? How to organize your sewing supplies? How to write a book proposal? How to write a song?
What are your creative dreams? Do you hope to win an Oscar for best actor? Be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Enter a quilt show? Become a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
How can I help you achieve your goals and dreams? Let me know.
Now it’s your turn. I challenge you to ask me at least one question about the arts or the creative process. Or suggest a topic for a future blog post on ARHtistic License. Share your thoughts in the comments below.