Wednesday, January 9, 2013

5th Grade Program Ties History, Art and Music Together

The Fifth graders are busy preparing for their music program on February 6th, 2012.  They will perform for the school at 1:30pm and then again for parents at 7:00pm.  Their theme this year is an interesting one, which ties together many different subject areas. 

The title of the program is, "The Quilt Speaks! A Journey Along the Underground Railroad."  In preparation for the program, students learned about the codes and symbols used in simple quilt patterns and folk songs that helped individuals to escape slavery through the Underground Railroad.  Building upon their learning in 4th and 5th grade social studies, students have made connections in music by learning to sing and play the folk songs and African American spirituals, as well as in art by embarking on a project to create a work encorporating the patterns of the quilt squares.  It's been very exciting to plan the program, and the students and I hope our audiences will be entertained and fascinated by this aspect of 19th century American History.

The North Star quilt block, for example, was a symbol used to remind slaves to follow the brightest star in the sky, the North star, which would lead them on their journey towards Canada.  The North Star is also part of the Big Dipper constellation, often referred to as the "drinking gourd."  This secret code word was used in the folk song, "Follow The Drinkin' Gourd," which gives incredibly explicit directions for making one's way along the Underground Railroad. 

The Zig Zag Path quilt block was a reminder to slaves that they may be followed by people who would put them in jail for trying to escape.  This square instructed them to dart around, to change their path, or to walk in the rivers or streams so that their scent could be lost.  The song, "Wade in the Water" reminded slaves of the same precautionary measures. 

The Sailboat quilt block was a reminder that once they reached the Great Lakes, slaves could board ships that would take them into Canada and to freedom.  It's possible that these quilt blocks would be visible in some manner so that the "slave friendly" ships could be identified.  The song, "Down By The Riverside" references laying down one's burden, meeting up with family and friends, and celebrating freedom by not thinking about one's struggles any more.

These three quilt square and corresponding songs are just a taste of what's to come on Wednesday, February 6th.  I hope that you will be able to attend one of these special performances!  Many thanks to Mrs. Schumer for incorporating this art project into her curriculum, and to Mrs. Smucker for her contributions in the social studies curriculum.