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American Patchwork: Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old


Alan Lomax continues his study of the patchwork quilt of the folk musics of America. Through travels to many locations, mostly in the South, Lomax encounters many elderly individuals with whom he speaks about their stories and the ways music has woven its way in and through life experiences. The importance of our American elders is emphasized as they are a link to generations past, their music, their lives, their culture, their heritages. The elders featured in this DVD provide glimpses into their stories as humans while offering musical life gems through vocal song, fiddle tunes, guitar blues, musical drama, and communal musicking.

American Patchwork: Appalachian Journey
The film can be streamed at http://www.folkstreams.net/film,127 or purchased at http://www.media-generation.net/index.htm



Jack Owens
Level: 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School
Focal-point questions:
Q: Why do you think Jack is afraid of white people? Do you think it was scary for him to speak with Alan Lomax about his personal and musical lives?
A: (Open-ended answers)
Q: Why was the guitar and dance music reminiscent of African drums?
A: Polyrhythms were produced when both instruments and feet made music together.
Q:What was Jack's experience with learning to play the guitar?
A: After his father left, Jack took up his father's old guitar and began to teach himself by picking out little tunes.
Q: How is this music like a day-dream and why is this idea important?
A: Day-dreams can be a nebulous space, a creative outlet where new ideas emerge. Alan Lomax supposes the blues came from day-dreams.

Activity#1:

Explore polyrhythms through vocalizations, found sounds, body percussion or anything else you can use to make music!
Do you have the blues? Sing about your blues to the tune of your choice.

Janie Hunter
* Cautionary for Teachers: There is a drunken devil portrayed in the Heaven Bound production.
Level: 7-8, Secondary School, Adult
Focal-point questions:
Q:What is the function of a Praise House? What is unique about the music that occurs there?
A:Praise Houses were established by African slaves as places of Christian worship, as they were not allowed to worship in white churches. They were non-denominational places of worship and featured spirituals in their purest form, according to Alan Lomax.
Q:How does a musical/dramatic production such as Heaven Bound preserve and transmit Black culture?
A: (open-ended answers) Music and drama may provide a forum for social cohesion and the transmission of important songs and stories.
Q: Is there any instrumental accompaniment to this music? Why?
A: There is no accompaniment, most likely due to the fact that the originators of this music did not have access to many instruments.

Activity#2:

Find an African American spiritual that you like such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" or "Wade in the Water;" sing it and research the history/meaning of the song.

Nimrod Workman
Level: 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School, Adult
Focal-point questions:
Q: What is Nimrod's Watergate song about?
A: The Watergate scandal in Washington, DC in the 1970s.
Q: How does Alan Lomax define "eccentric"?
A: Eccentricity can be described as a form of "genius," referring to persons who have retained their culture in unique ways, rather than adapting to various cultural shifts.
Q: What is unique about Nimrod's use of gesture while singing?
A: His way of gesturing to the song has not been seen anywhere else in the world except from Scotland's gypsies.

Activity#3:

Create movements that bring a folk ballad to life, for example, "John Henry."

The Sacred Harp/Chester Wooten
Level: 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School, Adult
Focal-point questions:
Q: What does Alan Lomax mean by "American Back-woods Bach"?
A:Chorale-like part singing that speaks to the experiences of rural Americans.
Q: What is "shape-note singing?"
A: The application of note heads of different shapes to different solfege syllables. The purpose is to facilitate the learning of multi-part vocal works.
Q: To what roots can all-day-shape-note-sings be traced?
A: Meetings of Scottish clans which featured feasting, singing, and honoring ancestors.
Q: Is there instrumental accompaniment in this portrayal of shape-note singing? Why or why not?
A: There is no accompaniment, perhaps because this is typically a vocal art form.

Activity#4:

Sing and/or rewrite a favorite folk song or hymn in shape-note notation, such as "Amazing Grace."

Preservation Hall
Level: 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School, Adult
Focal-point questions:
Q: What instruments do you hear in this "New Orleans style" jazz?
A: Banjo, clarinet, drums, piano, bass, saxophone, trumpet, trombone.
Q: Why is Preservation Hall important?
A: It provides a forum for jazz musicians to proliferate their music and make a living.

Activity#5:

Sing along to "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Compare the jazz sounds from the DVD to other forms/genres of jazz music.

Designed by Sarah Watts

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