As a middle school Chorus teacher, I want my students to enjoy the experience of singing while also learning the technical and historical aspects of music. I hope that my students will develop a love for music that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives and for some gain enough experience and love for the art that they will continue to sing, making a permanent place for music in their lives. So, how can I best hope to reach my students and leave a lasting impression that will stand out among the math, science, and social studies?
Field trips are an awesome way to give students experiences they can learn from and also build memories to last a lifetime. I took my students to the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC for the Sunday Gospel Brunch event. To this day, over ten years later, students and parents alike share with me their memories of that field trip.
One Saturday afternoon, I ran into Brandon Ortiz, one of my students from the first few years of teaching. Brandon never wanted to be in the choir but was placed in my class because there simply wasn’t enough room for him in any other Related Arts class. He was a good sport about it but I knew it would be a challenge to find a way for him to take something away from my class. On this particular Saturday, Brandon reminded me of the experience he had on the trip to the House of Blues, and the impact it had on his life.
I remember that his twin sister, Breanna was also a member of the choir, and both wanted to attend the trip. They came from a one-parent household where mom worked two jobs and could barely afford to keep food on the table for Brandon, Breanna, and their two younger siblings. A trip to the House of Blues seemed a fantasy. Mom wanted her kids to attend but simply didn’t know how she would afford it.
Brandon and Breanna worked hard to raise the money through the two fundraisers we participated in. They earned enough money to pay for one of them to go. It was heartwarming when their peers offered to chip in so both students could attend. Brandon shared with me that the generosity of their fellow choir members was something he never forgot. In fact, it made such an impact that he carried that experience with him into adulthood and now works for a non-profit organization raising money for underprivileged youth.
When we arrived at the House of Blues, we were greeted with the smell of cinnamon and bacon. One of the most appealing aspects of this visit was the “all you can eat” brunch. When we looked into the dining room there was table after table of every type of breakfast food you could imagine. There were pancakes, waffles, French toast, sausage, bacon, grits, a table of desserts, and more. I thought my student’s eyes would pop out of their heads! Even the parent chaperones looked around in awe.
Brandon reminded me that besides the awesome spread there was amazing artwork on the walls. There were African masks, paintings of musicians and instruments, and photographs of all the musicians that had performed at the House of Blues over the decades. Brandon said he saw a picture of Aretha Franklin and recalled how excited he was to tell his mom when they arrived home because Aretha was her favorite singer. It was so colorful and enriched in history, but the music is what made this trip so memorable.
Brandon recalled that the first thing that caught his attention was the gruff male voice he heard singing. The “Sunday Gospel Brunch” featured three older men from Africa. One of them played the keyboard, one played the saxophone and the third sang his heart out while hitting a tambourine on his thigh. They sang everything from old hymns to gospel songs, and the favorite was, “This Little Light of Mine.”
During “This Little Light of Mine,” the boisterous singer took the microphone from its stand and with the tambourine shaking in his other hand walked around to all of the tables in the dining room. He gave someone at every table the opportunity to belt out the song and enjoy themselves. The rest of the room would explode in applause after each solo. When he came to the section with my choir the students joined together to sing out and encouraged one another to take a turn. Brandon reminded me that it was his first solo. The boy’s voice rose above the cheers as he sang, “Let it shine!”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Brandon shared with me that the experience was something he continued to draw on with his own children. Through his “solo experience,” Brandon tried something new, even though he was scared to do it and he felt great afterward. He told me that he learned to be brave at that moment so he wouldn’t miss out on the fun that the other students were having. Brandon didn’t worry about looking silly or messing up he just lived in the moment and enjoyed it.
After the three men had finished their show, my choir was invited on stage to sing a few songs. I watched their faces light up with life and exhilaration. The opportunity to sing in such a unique and historical venue was the first any of the students had experienced.
Brandon recalled the rush he had as he walked on stage. He felt the energy in the room and the buzz of excitement among his choirmates. Looking out over the many unknown faces in the dining room he realized he was a part of something. He had a team. He and his fellow choir members were there to perform and give the audience a second show to remember.
As I stood there directing my students, I watched the freedom they performed with. There was no fear of mistakes. They were having fun and the audience was eating it up. We sang, “Down to the River to Pray,” an African Carol, an Italian Folk Song, and ended with a moving spiritual, “River in Judea.”
The last note of the song brought with it roaring applause. Folks stood up and cheered for the young people who sang their hearts out. It was a wonderful moment when the three older performers shook the hands of my students and complimented them on their singing. That experience validated to my students that hard work, preparation, and a love for music meant something to each of them.
With the exception of a few students who moved away, everyone who participated in the field trip to the House of Blues remained in choir for all three years of middle school. Brandon and Breanna both participated in chorus throughout their high school years. Brandon went on to earn a vocal scholarship to the college of his choice.
As Brandon and I began to say our goodbyes in the store that day, his mother walked up. She hugged me and thanked me because not only was her son successful in his career, but he was a great vocalist that still sang in church on Sundays. Brandon leaned in to give me one more hug and whispered in my ear, “Let it Shine.”
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