ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly online publication, designed for those who work with singers of all levels. A full annotated ChorTeach index is available online at acda.org/publications/chorteach. Over 160 articles are organized into seventeen categories. For submission information, to view the index, or to read the latest issue, visit acda.org/chorteach. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Spring 2021 issue titled “Sharing through Song: Resources for Singing Migration Stories” by Ethan M. Chessin
The 2020 NWACDA conference title was “Sharing our Story.” I love it when my students are able to tell their own stories through song. My problem, though, is that I teach in a school where the stories aren’t that diverse. How, then, can we use song to tell someone else’s story? Ignoring migration narratives is not an option in 2021 if we are to be relevant. In this article, I will provide resources for teachers and directors interested in using music to teach choirs and audiences about immigration.
I came to this project by accident. Every other year, I commission a local rock musician to write a concert-length program for my students to perform alongside a rock band and then take the show on tour. I use this material to teach my students about the business of music from local industry professionals, and the students end up writing press releases and booking the opening acts for the show. This year, we worked with Luz Elena Mendoza from the band, Y La Bamba. Mendoza wrote an incredible piece titled “El Agua De Mi Ser” centered on the story of her parents’ immigration from Mexico. Upon delivering the score, Mendoza urged me to teach my students to understand the truth of immigration stories rather than the political narratives they may have been more familiar with. As you already know, immigration is a huge topic! Fortunately, so is love, beauty, hope, music, or any of the other topics that we tackle on a regular basis in our choirs.
If I want to center a concert on love, I would much rather engage with a first-person text in which my students are singing love songs rather than singing about love. This is the magic of choir. Our choristers get to try on emotions rather than just describing them. To teach about immigration, then, I sought out first-person narratives of the immigrant experience, in story and song, with musical textures that matched the emotions of the text. At the end of this article, I will include a list of music that meets these criteria, including all voicings and levels of difficulty.
My primary source for this project was The Immigrant Story (www.theimmigrantstory.org). Sankar Raman runs this incredible project, which publishes short immigrant biographies online and hosts live storytelling events. The mission is to expand Americans’ understanding of the stories of immigrants. The Immigrant Story has begun developing a curriculum for teachers to engage students in oral history and journalism to tell the story of immigrants in their own communities. They are offering tremendous assistance to schools and teachers who would like to use the curricula, including months of lesson plans and editorial assistance. Though my school is in a predominantly conservative community, my students were eager to explore the stories of their neighbors who have immigration stories to tell.
Read more in the Spring 2021 issue at acda.org/chorteach.