The ARTS of Mardi Gras

In this guest blog, Rebecca Brown, music teacher at Little River Elementary School, Orlando, shares her experiences teaching the arts of Mardi Gras.  This colorful celebration is a perfect opportunity to dig deeper into Jazz music and to experience cultural traditions.  Rebecca uses ideas and strategies from Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING in the lessons that she outlines below.

The ARTS of Mardi Gras – Rebecca Brown

Come January 1st, many Americans are busily putting away holiday decorations and starting to address their new year’s resolutions. In New Orleans, however, the celebrations are just getting started. January 6th marks the official start of Carnival season, which lasts several weeks and culminates on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. For the five years I taught in New Orleans, Carnival season was my favorite time of year.

The city truly comes alive in mid-January, as people decorate their homes with the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold) and elaborate parades start to roll through town with music that energizes the crowds. Many schools and workplaces have Friday King Cake parties, where the colorful ring-shaped dessert is served. School children also partake in the celebration with lessons on the history, art and music of Mardi Gras.  Since returning home to Florida two years ago, I include many Mardi Gras traditions in my classroom.

 

The Music of Mardi Gras

Essential Question: How do the arts enhance celebrations?

 Learning Goal: Students will be able to describe a cultural tradition through its music and art.

Music Content Standards:

  • Performing on instruments alone and with others;
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music;
  • Evaluating Music and Musical performances;
  • Understanding Music in relation to history and culture

Materials: Photographs of Louis Armstrong, pictures of a brass band or marching band, recording of Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In, recording of Dirty Dozen Brass Band When the Saints Go Marching In, rhythm sticks, jazz rhythm pattern cards

Lesson Outline:

The most natural way to introduce Mardi Gras is through music. On Day 1, I play Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In as students enter. Students complete an Active Music Listening Experience Guide (see p. 63 TTAW) as they listen again. After listening, discuss their responses to the melody, rhythm, and mood of the music. The students usually comment on how happy it sounds and how it makes them want to dance.

Next I introduce the Jazz style of music. I show students pictures of brass bands and parades and we discuss what instruments students heard in the recording. I explain the history of the music and of Louis Armstrong. There are many helpful books about jazz and jazz musicians (some are listed below). It’s easy to tie this reading into a variety of subject areas.

National E.L.A. Anchor Standards:

Relate ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

After our discussions, I play the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording of When the Saints Go Marching In and ask students to compare the difference between this recording and Louis Armstrong’s recording.

I invite students to create a marching band along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording.  Students move through general space with rhythm sticks, marching to the beat during the instrumental portion of the music. When the singing comes in, they freeze in place and student use rhythm sticks to play rhythms from selected rhythm cards. When the instrumental portion returns, students resume marching.

Partners share their impressions of the music of New Orleans.

 Integrating Visual Art of Mardi Gras

Another important aspect of Mardi Gras is the art. In addition to decorating their homes with festive colors and tinsel, many people in New Orleans use Carnival season as an opportunity to dress up for the parades. Some even wear hats, wigs and masks. Artists spend months creating parade floats. The Krewes, or societies that organize the parades often create floats and parade themes based on mythological figures (Orpheus, Morpheus, Proteus, etc.). Students in Louisiana created shoebox parade floats, modeled after the life-size versions from their favorite parades.

Using the Read the Picture strategy (p. 11 and 70 TTAW), students build background knowledge through reading photos and art images as well as pictures of Venetian style masks. Students can make their own decorative masks with construction paper and glitter to wear in a class parade

National Art Anchor Standards:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas.
  • Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Refine and complete artistic work,
  • Convey meaning through presentation of artistic work.

Summarizing

Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to making music and art.

Some Resources:

Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING by Mary Palmer and Susan Rosoff (TTAW)

The Jazz of Our Street by Fatima Shaik

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxane Orgill

Mamma Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd

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