It has been said that music is an international language, and my goal is to use music as a way of sharing cultural understanding while encouraging students to develop their own creativity and to take pride in their own cultural heritage. Through song, I share the language, stories and cultural values of the Mohawk people and guide students to finding a sense of their own identity.
A 20-day residency for students in grades four and five begins with the teaching of the Mohawk version of songs with which they are familiar. For example, “Amazing Grace” has been translated into countless languages, including the Mohawk language, and has entered into our musical traditions. As children learn this and other familiar songs in a new language, they are also taught the history of the Mohawk people and helped to understand that American Indians are part of modern culture, not just part of history.
Next they are taught songs that are traditional Mohawk songs and introduced to drumming. We discuss how the elements of music are used in American Indian music, the instruments that were traditionally used, and the purpose of song in our culture. Some songs are ceremonial, some social, some for dance. I bring traditional clothing and articles to the classroom to share and discuss, and help students to understand the important role that American Indian culture has played and continues to play in the United States. I enhance their awareness of American Indian culture by integrating other folk arts that are a part of my heritage, and I introduce students to the music that I am creating now as a contemporary American Indian musician. I blend traditional music with contemporary instrumentation and technology to create a sound that is uniquely my own.
Students are then invited to begin exploring their own roots and traditions. They are asked to interview their elders and share stories, songs and crafts that are part of their own heritage. Thus students develop an awareness of the richness of their own background and build their self-esteem.
A culminating activity is to present a “Native American Day” to the rest of the school and the community. Through this, the students are able to share with others what they have learned, to perform traditional and contemporary American Indian music and dance with me, and to demonstrate their new knowledge and skills.
My program addresses Core Content in Social Studies as well as in the Arts and Humanities.