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.