The Metaphor Meets the Music: English and Chorus Collaboration

Wait.  English and music?  They're totally different subjects!  But are they?  Recently, Ms. Messina's 8th grade chorus worked with some 8th grade English classes to study a hauntingly beautiful song, “Don’t Be Seen”.  It is a song filled with lyrics open to interpretation and with music that resonates with pathos, discord, and hope. "Don't Be Seen" was written by the composer Stuart Chapman Hill for an 8th grade chorus and it was the crux of this collaboration that culminated in the chorus' performance and an exhibit of the projects created through English. 

Back in December, Ms. Messina, chorus teacher extraordinaire, approached me with a song she thought we could both work with. The idea was that many of the chorus students also have me for English, so it would be a meaningful marriage of our classes.  We would study the song poetically and musically (after a guest appearance by Ms. Messina) in English while the students were contemplating and rehearsing the song in chorus. The depth, scope, and quality of what the students created exceeded even our greatest expectations. 

The task in English after we had analyzed, discussed, and offered possible meanings of the lyrics, was to create something that showed your interpretation of the mysterious story. The artwork was exquisite.  The technologically savvy electronic presentations impressed everyone. One student, Steven Jones, even coded an original video game based on the song, and two other students, Dominique Crecco and Peggy Jones, created a video of their interpretive dance, including explanations of the meanings of their movements.  And the original works of fiction and poetry all complemented the soul-tingling performance of the song sung by our exceptionally talented 8th grade chorus. Parents, teachers, administrators, and peers enjoyed the chorus' performance in the auditorium followed by the exhibit in the cafeteria (and, of course, refreshments were served - the macadamia cookies were favorites).  

According to Mr. Owens (who was an invaluable facilitator for the event), "This is a beautiful example of collaborative teaching and learning.  Students were given the choice to express their learning in a way that was individually meaningful; the variety and quality of products is truly incredible.  I couldn’t be more thrilled with the manner in which Mr. Smith and Mrs. Messina work with their students and each other."

After we talked about how exciting the collaboration was the next day, Ms. Messina reflected, "When we first talked about this before the holidays, I thought it would be really good. But this (as she looked at the artwork now on display in her room) turned out to be something extraordinary."  Kyle Kazimir, a 12th grader and an exceptional musician who also performed at the concert, remarked, "Are you doing this again next year?  You have to. This is just so great."  Isabella Polanco, an 8th grader whose Keynote interpretation was exhibited on her iPad noted, "I really liked the collaboration project.  It encouraged more creativity than other projects and allowed for more ways for my classmates and me to show our understanding of the piece.  It was a lot of fun to see how artistic my peers can be."

Yes. English and chorus can meld with some thoughtful planning and with a host of incredibly creative and talented students. Yeah. They made "music" together.   Click here for a video of the Chorus 8 performance 

I'm in my 33rd year of teaching, 32 of them in Mineola.  I teach 8th and 11th grade English at the high school, and I am the adviser for the Question Mark, the high school newspaper.  I also am assistant director for the spring musical and the adviser for the Creative Writing Club. 

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