Sequella H. Coleman
To learn to express one’s feelings through the color blue
—The student will be able to:
1. define and identify blue
2. use shades of blue to create a mood that depicts their feelings
3. write a story/poem from another student’s “blue” artwork.
Various shades of blue construction paper
Tempera paints (Blue/White)
Blue fabric, ribbon, feathers
Magazines and catalogues
12’x18’ white paper
3x5 index cards
1. The teacher will give each student a card and ask them to define the word blue without using the dictionary. Students will write their definitions for the word blue.
2. The teacher will then give each student a piece of white paper and place the other materials on a table. The instructions will be for the students to create a collage using any or all of the materials provided to define blue.
3. Finished pictures will be displayed and reflected upon.
4. Each picture will be numbered. Each student will pick a number and will be asked to write about that “blue” piece. What is it saying about blue ? Does it create a particular mood ? The writing should be brief, yet detailed, and either short story or poetry form.
Index card activity participation
Finished Blue Artwork
Written piece about one artwork
Timeline Two class periods
THE MUSIC and MIGRATION
Although “the blues” was defined in the introduction in musical terms, the term really is much more complex. It can be further defined as an emotion, as well as a technique , a musical form and a song lyric. Most generally, “ the blues” refers to a feeling or mood of despondency or extreme struggle. It is common for everyone to experience this feeling at some point. However for African Americans, particularly post Civil War, the blues were a way of life that evolved from the peculiar circumstances of their existence in the United States.
Steven C. Tracy in his book
Langston Hughes and The Blues
describes the blues as “ a particular misery and sadness, a particular blues, unites African Americans whose common heritage—in Africa, slavery and a theoretical freedom...” (2) In other words, the blues music (lyric and songs) came about as an expressive way to deal with societal oppressions, an individual and collective expression that affected African American life beginning as field work songs and progressing to migratory travel experiences.
Tracy also discusses in his book two types of blues, eight bar and twelve bar, and how the stanza lengths, as with poetry, can be looser than the standard definition since a musical passage or vocal line may be shortened or extended at will to produce a seven or thirteen and a half bar blues. The emotional involvement of the singer and musicians is the ultimate indicator of stanzas and phrasing. The audience responsiveness can also be a determining factor.
The blues music could then be considered a way for someone to control and shape his/her own destiny by asserting both personal and community pride and values through music. This music attempted to reflect at least one segment of the African-American population at the time. The early blues music expressed the African-American individuality and separateness from American society. The emergence of classic blues indicated the many changes that were taking place. The African-American sense of place within American society was evolving and the lyrics became more recognizable to mainstream America. The classic blues attempted a universality, the lyrics contained situations and ideas that held broad human meaning. Students should be able to compare and contrast these ideas and times to hip-hop music and their own expressions of their present day community. Discussions and exercises will be done to have students understand their part in the historical migration that has occurred in their families until now.
E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in his book,
A First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy,
simply describes the blues as “ a kind of sad, slow music, usually with words, that developed among blacks in the southern United States.” (3) Students prior knowledge must be examined, using maps, to review the vast areas considered southern. The remoteness and rural attitudes, as well as the segregated nature of the times should be highlighted for students. Many southern states became noted for their own variation of the blues. The sounds and language were indicative of their regional culture. Consider, for example, the Memphis sound as compared to the Cajun Blues. To illustrate this, have students listen to Bessie Smith’s “
St. Louis Blues”
and Ida Cox’s “
I’ve Got the Blues for Rampart Street”
(New Orleans). The subtle differences in cultures should be mentioned to help students visualize the differences that will appear in their “blues” pieces—due to their own diverse backgrounds.
The migration of southern African Americans to northern cities and the introduction of the phonograph record helped popularize the blues music and helped it attain commercial status. The attraction of the northern states must be presented for student understanding. The popular northern cities were meccas of the industrial age and manufacturing centers. Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis were very popular migration route destinations. The automobile industry and other machine factories were employing many of the previous outside laborers for good wages. There were also plenty of houses, hotels and other establishments to clean. These cities represented opportunities for advancement and upward mobility. The East coast was represented by New York and Boston and other smaller cities, like New Haven. Harlem was considered ‘the’ place for African American cultural activities.
A collective of musical, literary and artistic talent flocked together to create the most centralized and exciting time in African American cultural existence. There was a freedom, openness and yet still a sadness expressed by those ‘artists’ of the day. While they were writing and performing for themselves, their works were being largely enjoyed by white audiences. The emotions were very cyclical, the African Americans were expressing their individual and collective blues, but more blues was created because they could not easily perform for each other. To share these feelings they formed collaborations, such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston or Hughes and Romare Bearden. Musicians would do improvisational numbers together to express their blues. The growth of these jam sessions lead to the birth of jazz. The blues then represented a blending of older instrumental and vocal techniques into a new kind of music and the reworking of it lead to still another type of music, jazz.
The blues are a reflection of southern religious spiritual music and has some of the traditional gospel elements. Particularly the concept of lining (reciting the words to be sung) or more aptly named the call and response. A line of words and/or music is given and then repeated by the next voice or instrument. This allows for simultaneous ideas of individualism within a group, certain freedoms are noted within a communal feeling. Hence, personal performance is accommodated within a collective improvisation of tight harmonic structure. Playing the blues in this manner allowed for a healthy competition amongst singers and musicians and between instruments.
Traditionally, the primary blues instrumentation was the guitar. Played skillfully, the guitar could nearly imitate a human voice whining as if it were talking through a problem. The popularity of this instrument was its practicality. It could easily be made, was quite portable and multi-functional. The strings could be plucked, held and rubbed while the wood could be beaten for drum sounds. Students can make guitars from recycled materials at any point during this unit and may use them to accompany their poetry readings, other productions or simply as an artistic piece. They should be reminded the first guitars were probably made from African gourds and gut string.
When playing musical selections for students one should also point out the hymn concept of a chorus or choral response is lacking. Blues is mostly individual dialogue (writer/singer) between two or perhaps three people. The lyrics represent a transcendence. To talk about ones problems, struggles or blues allows you to get over them or at least feel better about them. One realizes he/she is not alone in his/her blues and the notion that someone understands is therapeutic. Point out that there is an element of humor in most blues despite its often sad sound.
So to personalize each student’s experience lessons have been written to have students explore
families’ migration to New Haven. While, the blues is considered a part of African-American tradition, anyone who has moved from one place (home, school, church, etc.) to another has experienced the blues of migration. This ‘blues’ is a mix of sorrow and anticipation of the known and unknown. Sometimes it feels like intermittent hopelessness and flashes of hope. Therefore, as Walter Mosley describes the blues in
“the blues as an expression of black poetry and black tragedy and how they sit in judgment of the American experience.”, (4) so can students describe adolescence. Most students can associate with this concept and write about or express through some medium such an experience, perhaps explaining a move to a new state, apartment, or school. They will also trace their family history to New Haven, it may be necessary to go back two or three generations.
Fair Haven, as well as many other New Haven schools, has a high African American and Hispanic population. The migration topic is quite relevant to both ethnic groups. The Puerto Rican migration is comparable, from island to mainland because it also happens to be south to north. The adjustments to such things as weather, housing conditions, food and expectations of a better life. A concept to compare with the 1920’s is the decisions that follow the realization that the high expectations may not be met by the move. In such cases, do families return, move elsewhere or stay and make the best of the new situation?
Students will use various literary forms of expression—poems, journals, short stories, skits, plays, etc. -to examine the changes they have made in their short lives. These forms will be used to compare the physical and psychological changes that puberty has and will have upon their middle school years. Students will be responsible for and have ownership of their products. Social and musical comparisons will be made between the 1920’s, and the 1990’s, with an emphasis on commercialism and its importance.